Archive for July, 2008

A devious plot collapses in laughter

By Jana Eisenberg
From The Buffalo News, 7/29/08

Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” has a lot going for it.

Director Steve Vaughan, with a hand both broad and precise, leaves no joke unexplored, no physical gesture underplayed, nor any insult subtly delivered. His actors are encouraged to thicken their accents and gambol, moon or roar with abandon, which they do.

The cast, with 17 in speaking roles and 10 or so in the supporting ensemble, is clearly having a great time in this show, which opened Friday after a one-day weather delay.

Vaughan also conveys the deeper meanings. A few of the Bard’s lessons: be happy with what you have; things may not be as they seem; Father does not always know best, etc.

Ken Shaw’s costumes strongly support these messages and the tone that is struck. The use of sheer fabric in many of the clothes leaves things both covered and exposed, but neither fully.

The slightly repetitive plot finds Sir John Falstaff (Norman Sham) hitting the town of Windsor, looking to remedy his financial woes. Falstaff’s dopey plan involves wooing two upper-class, married women, at the same time, with the same love letters.

The plan, of course, goes wrong, and the play becomes essentially a screwball comedy of comeuppance all around. In my book, this is a dish best eaten quickly; here, it is drawn out. And it is a lot of fun, though a tad overlong.

The wives of the title are Mistresses Ford (Susan Drozd), the saucier of the two, and Page (given a Kay Ballard/Eve Arden kind of turn by Beth Donahue). Once they discover Falstaff’s silly plan, they decide to take revenge on him. Not just twice, but three times, they trick him into a rendezvous and humiliate him instead.

Throughout are classic devices such as devious servants interfering in their masters’ devious plans, sending people to wrong locations, disguises, and hiding behind curtains and in laundry baskets. And, so there’s no mistaking it: tons and tons of jokes about weight and sex. When they are delivered in Elizabethan English, they are still funny, if, again, a bit repetitive.

Sham, naturally funny, gives us a Falstaff with a couple of revealing, Jackie Gleason-esque moments, where rueful self-awareness meets callow hope.

Paul Todaro, as Ford, one of the husbands, brings out a good deal of his physical comedy arsenal, roaring with rage, stomping on his hat and clenching fists in frustrated and murderously jealous intent.

The subplot, involving three suitors of Page’s lovely young daughter Anne (Anne Roaldi), is also a great source of amusement. Two of the men — her mother’s and father’s choices, Dr. Caius (Roger Keicher) and Slender (Steven Petersen) respectively — ridiculously and selfishly vie for her hand, while she has already made up her mind to marry the third (Zak Ward).

Jeffrey Coyle, as the genial and bemused Host of the local inn, and Chris Standardt, as Justice of the Peace Shallow, one of the (barely) cooler heads, provide nice counterpoint to some of the hijinks that go on.

Of course, all ends well. The mix-ups are unmixed, the conflicts un-conflicted and the whole party ends up laughing together rather than trying to kill one another.

It’s “Knight” Time in Delaware Park

From, 7/29/08

“Why see the Dark Knight when you can see the fat knight?” exclaimed cast member Norman Sham during the intermission of The Merry Wives of Windsor Sunday in Delaware Park. The performance was part of the annual Shakespeare in Delaware Park series. The plot centered on Sham’s character, a portly, hard-drinking and womanizing knight named Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff is a far cry from the “caped crusader,” and instead of deeds of heroics, Falstaff specializes in embarrassing antics.

Shakespeare in Delaware Park has been a fixture in Buffalo for over three decades now, and routinely draws between 40,000 and 50,000 people each year. Lisa Ludwig-Kramer, Managing Director for Shakespeare in Delaware Park, explained that “it[Shakespeare in Delaware Park] started when artistic director Saul Elkin wanted to bring a free Shakespeare festival to Buffalo 33 years ago.”

Earlier this year King Lear ran in Delaware Park, after a four week break for rehearsal The Merry Wives of Windsor began.

The dark story of King Lear could not be more different from the upbeat play running now. Ludwig-Kramer explained the choice, “Saul [Elkin] picks the shows every year. We try to mix things up every year and do a tragedy and a comedy. We already did King Lear, one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, and we wanted to balance it out with a more lighthearted work.”

The Merry Wives of Windsor follows two storylines. The first involves Falstaff’s attempt to have an affair with two married women, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford. However, the two women are not at all attracted to Falstaff and decide to try and humiliate the knight. To make matters worse, both of the ladies’ husbands find out about Falstaff’s plan. While all this is going on Mistress Page’s daughter, Anne, is being wooed by three different men.

Though some of the humor of the play has faded with time, much of it has not and spectators were laughing aloud through much of the play. Especially funny were two scenes in which Falstaff tries to escape from Ford’s house without being detected, first in a basket of dirty laundry and then dressed as an old woman.

The entire cast was very able, but several really stood out. Sham gave a very humorous and vibrant performance as Falstaff. Susan Drozd and Beth Donahue were also perfectly cast as the scheming wives. Probably the best performance came from Paul Todaro who gave a forceful performance as jealous husband Mr. Ford.

The audience seemed to love the play. “I though it was fantastic and everyone had great stage presence,” said Jessica Abbott of Hamburg.

Even Shakespeare in Delaware Park veterans like Jessica Tasker of Blasdell liked the show. “I really liked it. I thought it was really funny. I think its one of the best that I’ve seen here. It had a really funny plot, the acting was really good,” Tasker said.

If you want to catch a performance the show will go on until August 17, Tuesdays through Sundays, starting each night at 7:30.

Shakespeare at Delaware Park presents Merry Wives of Windsor


Shakespeare in Delaware Park (SDP) is pleased to announce the second production of the 2008 season of free professional outdoor theater. After a rainy start to the 33rd SDP season, KING LEAR closed Sunday July 13th entertaining record crowds. Shakespeare in Delaware Park will now continue with THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. This comedy is known to be the only Shakespeare play to deal exclusively with contemporary English Life and features the famous “fat knight” Sir John Falstaff, which will be played by local favorite Norm Sham.

As a “must-see summer event” Shakespeare in Delaware Park reaches more than 40,000 audience members each year and is proud to be celebrating 33 incredible years of high-quality professional theatre which remains FREE for the public to enjoy. As a special feature for this production, Artistic Director Saul Elkin will present a 30 minute pre-show talk with the audience at 6:45pm on Wednesday July 30th and August 6th before THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR performance.

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR cast also features veterans: Beth Donahue, Susan Drozd, Paul Todaro and Chrissy McDonald. Directed by Steve Vaughan, costume design by Ken Shaw and set design by Ron Schwartz. Shakespeare in Delaware Park performances are held every evening (except Mondays) at 7:30 p.m. Shows take place on Shakespeare Hill in Delaware Park, next to Hoyt Lake behind the Rose Garden, off Lincoln Parkway near the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Further information may be obtained at or by calling (716) 856-4533.

2008 Season Sponsor M&T Bank returns as the main corporate sponsor, a role M&T has played for the past 14 seasons. Additional funding comes from members and voluntary audience donations, as well as the Erie County Cultural Resources Advisory Board (ECCRAB) and New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and the Peter C. Cornell Trust. Media sponsorship is provided by The Buffalo News, WGRZ Channel 2 and WBFO. Travers Collins donates creative work.

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