The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.2078  Friday, 10 December 2004

From:           Janet Costa <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 9 Dec 2004 15:34:32 -0800 (PST)
Subject:        The Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas?

As a New Yorker, I follow the theatre scene closely, but I read this
review out of a habit I acquired at the Shakespeare Institute Library:
reading anything in a newspaper that has "Shakespeare" in the title. I
almost choked when I read that Michael Bogdanov, whom I have admired
since his 1979 Shrew at the RSC, "contributed" to this production.

Has anyone seen this production who can shed some light on what seems to
me to be a bizarre choice for the Wives?

 From the NY Times:

Theater Review
'Lone Star Love': Shakespeare Doesn't Need All That There Fancy Talk

December 9, 2004
Howdy, partner, and get outta my seat!

Patrons at "Lone Star Love," a new musical adaptation of "The Merry
Wives of Windsor" set deep in the heart of you know where, may need to
assert themselves to settle in at the John Houseman Theater. But if you
do enter to find a Stetson-wearing cast member jawing away with
neighbors, blocking access to your assigned place, you can always mosey
on down to the stage for a spell, where a down-home barbecue feast has
been arrayed: hot dogs and chili, potato salad and corn muffins,
lemonade and beer.

But it would be wise not to overindulge in starchy foods, since the
musical that follows this folksy welcoming ritual is not without its own
soporific effects. Corn and sugar also turn out to be essential
ingredients in this sweet-tempered, cheerfully hokey production.

Shakespeare's fat knight, here known as Sgt. John Falstaff (Jay O.
Sanders), arrives in Windsor, Tex., having fled west after the collapse
of the Confederate Army. In short order he's embroiled with Aggie Ford
(Beth Leavel) and Margaret Anne Page (Stacia Fernandez), the sassy wives
of a pair of cattle ranchers. Thump! Into the laundry basket he goes.
Plop! Into the river.

Meanwhile, Miss Anne Page (Julie Tolivar) encounters her own troubles on
the merry road to romance. Daddy wants to lasso the sheriff's dimwitted
nephew to march his daughter down the aisle, but Mama is inclined toward
the local doctor, a mustachioed Frenchman (Drew McVety). Will Miss Anne
evade their designs long enough to get hitched to the handsome stranger
in town, a "yodeling cowboy" called Fenton (Clarke Thorell)?

John L. Haber, who conceived and adapted the show, has set Shakespeare's
comedy in the Wild West in cute but hardly revelatory fashion, making
the occasional coy or corny allusion to the original. ("How dost thou?"
asks Fenton of Harriett D. Foy's Miss Quickly, who has a feather duster
in hand. Tee-hee.) The founder of a children's theater in North
Carolina, Mr. Haber has pitched most of the comedy at a tween-friendly
level, with that sissy Frenchman sporting a mighty silly accent, for

This play is not among Shakespeare's most prized comedies. (It was
reportedly whipped up on commission as a favor to Queen Elizabeth I, who
couldn't get enough of naughty old Falstaff.) But it has proved oddly
seductive to composers, most famously Verdi, who refashioned it for his
own sublime purposes. Although it's hardly fair to draw comparisons
between "Lone Star Love" and the celebrated "Falstaff," it is worth
noting that Verdi didn't merely plaster standard-format arias across the
play's surface; he created a true musical comedy.

"Lone Star Love" boasts a tangy country-and-blues score by Jack Herrick,
artistic director of the Red Clay Ramblers, who is joined onstage by his
fellow Ramblers Clay Buckner and Chris Frank. Together they play
Falstaff's famous sidekicks. But as melodious as Mr. Herrick's songs are
- "Count on My Love," a lilting duet for Fenton and Miss Page, is a real
honey - they essentially adorn or interrupt the action rather than
propel it forward. With the musical's score and its book proceeding on
parallel tracks, the show tends to dawdle when it should sprint.

The cast certainly can't be faulted for a lack of energy. With accents
as broad as the Rio Grande, they romp, stomp, sashay, sneer or snarl
with an exuberance that skirts caricature or embraces it, depending on
their characters' comic purposes. Ms. Leavel and Ms. Fernandez are fine
singers, their contrasting voices blending harmoniously in a duet
denouncing the foolish ways of men. Mr. Sanders makes a jolly victim of
their feminine wiles, although Falstaff is not a dominant presence here.
As Fenton, the laid-back Mr. Thorell, with a sweet, light tenor, pleases
particularly by trying less hard to please. And the Red Clay Ramblers,
taking part in the drama in their thin dramatic guise or simply
supplying expert fiddling and picking from the side of the stage, are
always a pleasure to hear.

Staged with care by Michael Bogdanov, on Derek McLane's airy set
dominated by a big barn door that slides open to reveal cloudy expanses
of sky, "Lone Star Love" is the kind of pleasant, competent, thoroughly
innocuous show that somehow leaves you with an itch for the offensively bad.

'Lone Star Love, or the Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas' Through Jan. 9

[ . . . ]

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