Review: “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in Mill Valley

For twenty years, Mill Valley’s Curtain Theatre has treated local audiences to admission-free, fully-produced Shakespeare plays performed in the small outdoor amphitheatre in Old Mill Park. Whether they will get to continue to do so is in the hands of city’s Parks and Recreation Commission as they deal with complaints from some neighbors who appear to be shocked – SHOCKED – that people actually use the park for its intended purposes.

In the meantime, they’re moving forward with this year’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. The comedy runs weekends through September 8. Not one of Shakespeare’s most critically revered plays, it commits the cardinal sin (to some) of actually being entertaining.  

Described by one of the actors after a recent performance as “a terrible read, but great fun to watch”, it contains one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters – the portly Sir John Falstaff (Grey Wolf). He arrives in Windsor a little short on coin and decides the best way to rectify that is to woo two wealthy wives and seduce them out of their purses. Falstaff attempts to enlist his servants Nym (Steve Beecroft) and Pistol (Philip Swanson) in his scheme, but they refuse and are dismissed. Seeking revenge on him, the ex-servants notify Masters Ford and Page (Marc Berman & Mark Shepard), the husbands of the wives, of Falstaff’s designs. Mistresses Ford and Page (Heather Cherry & Marianne Shine) have already figured out Falstaff’s plan and plot his comeuppance.

Grey Wolf, Lisa Bettini, Maureen Coyne

Meanwhile, young Anne Page (Lily Jackson) is being pursued by three men – Slender (Anthony Rummel), French Doctor Caius (Beecroft again) and young Fenton (Dan DeGabriele). Each suitor has support from various family members and associates and it should come as no surprise that the two storylines will connect by the play’s conclusion.

It’s interesting to note that in this play the female characters are all level-headed while most of the male characters are idiots. Director Kim Bromley posits this may be one of the reasons this play is often dismissed.

There’s a good ensemble at work here, led by Wolf’s charismatic Falstaff. He’s a rogue and a scoundrel, but you’re gonna like the guy. The same goes for the rest of the cast, who are mostly well-cast and very entertaining, especially Beecroft’s Inspector Clouseau-ish Doctor Caius.

Dress warmly, bring a picnic, borrow one of the theatre company’s blankets, and say good-bye to summer with a very enjoyable, light-hearted trip to Windsor.

‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ runs Saturday–Sunday through September 8 with a special Monday, September 2 (Labor Day) performance at the Old Mill Park Amphitheater, 352 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley. All shows 2pm. Free. curtaintheatre.org

Photos by Russell Johnson

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the Pacific Sun.

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