Carol is a 40+ year veteran of community theater and retired from DuPont.
I delight every year in DelShakes’ summer festival in Rockwood Park. As far as I’m concerned, it ain’t summer if I haven’t seen Shakespeare at Rockwood!
Bradley Mott (Falstaff) and Amy Frear (Mistress Ford) in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
DelShakes is ideal for those with little exposure to, and maybe a little nervousness about, Shakespeare. The program always includes a detailed plot synopsis. And during the delightful pre-show picnicking, the audience can enjoy and learn from the student apprentices’ “regular” language preview of the plot. This year, the preshow highlight is a funny homage to the musical Chicago.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is a particularly accessible play. Shakespeare set the play in his contemporary England, and focuses on the domestic dramas of the middle class. In her notes, Director Krista Apple describes Merry Wives as “An Elizabethan sitcom.” Apple sets her production in the suburbs of the 1950s, but this sitcom is no Father Knows Best. It’s more reminiscent of 1990s sit-coms like Home Improvement and Everybody Loves Raymond. As in many of Shakespeare’s comedies, the men are...shall we say, misguided... and the women are the real brains of the operation.
In his set design, Lance Kniskern picks up the suburban theme with the structural outlines of two houses. The partial staircase elements tipped me off that these are the quintessential home of the suburbs — the split-level. These structures easily represented a number of locations around the neighborhood. My only quibble is that I was a bit confused with the stage left house — the actors sometimes went through the doorway and other times narrowly skirted downstage of the doorframe, making it difficult to know if the scene was indoors or outdoors.
Merry Wives is often considered a showcase for the character of Falstaff, ably played by Bradley Mott. But what struck me in this production is what a wonderful ensemble piece it is. Through voice and physicality, each actor clearly embodies exactly who their character is, as well as the relationships between them. Brett Ashley Robinson and Amy Frear convey the genuine affection between Mistresses Page and Ford. Gregory Isaac revels in the whiplash jealousy of Master Ford. David Pica squeezes every bit of absurdity from Dr. Caius.
I encourage everyone, especially Shakespeare newbies, to bring a friend, bring a picnic, and enjoy DelShakes The Merry Wives of Windsor. Maybe Shakespeare at Rockwood Park will become as much a cherished summer tradition for you as it is for me.