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.