Widgets Magazine

High-Fives for Merry Wives

Stanford Shakespeare Company (StanShakes for short) opens their winter quarter production this weekend with “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” The play is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and farcical comedies, poking fun at domestic everyday life. The story follows one John Falstaff as he tries to woo two small town wives in an effort to acquire their money. In typical Shakespearian fashion, there are subplots of lovers, quarrels and mischievous servants. And of course, the play isn’t over until someone gets married.

The play is set by director Geeta Persad in what she likes to describe as the “‘Leave it to Beaver’ days of 1950s middle America.” The theme works well for housing the play. The costuming and props are fun. Actors don period attire and hang out in diners instead of pubs. Everything about the play screams 1950s–including the music chosen for scene transitions, arguably the best parts of the play. The upbeat tunes of Elvis Presley and other famous 1950s icons keep the action moving and the audience entertained between scenes. It might also be the reason that the play never seems to drag (the show runs just over two hours with a 15-minute intermission about three quarters of the way through).

One of the most surprising things for me was the choice of staging for the play. “The Merry Wives of Windsor” is being performed in the round. There is no raised stage, and seating continues in 360 degrees around the performance area. Not only does this seating ensure that everyone gets a good view of the performance (assuming you get there early enough for a front row seat), but it also creates a sort of intimacy with the audience. The actors take it one step further by directly engaging with audience members. Characters can be found leaping in and out of chairs in certain scenes as they attempt to hide from others or win over the audience to support their own opinions.

Even with this active engagement, theater in the round is moderately difficult to work with. However, the players work well in this mode. Actors rarely, if ever, have their back to the audience, and asides are still directly spoken to the audience in the manner you would expect with regular staging. The choice of staging also works particularly well for the venue. Although the main lounge of Toyon is gorgeous, it is not the ideal setting for a play. The production and crew did an amazing job transforming the space into something that works as well, if not better, than a regular theater.

Of course, the best part of StanShakes and this performance overall is the company itself. The actors never cease to amaze me with their uncanny ability to bring Shakespeare to life in a modern age. In fact, for some, their talent might even be daunting. Julia Meltzer ’10 was a special highlight, playing Mistress Quickly, a servant who is always engaging herself in other people’s plots. Another highlight was Mary Beth Corbett ’12, who played an energetic hostess always eager to help move the plot, bottle of whiskey in hand. The play also exhibits some impressive accent work from the company, including Francisco Maravilla ’11, who works with French inflection, and Alex Connolly ’10, who sports a Scottish accent.

“The Merry Wives of Windsor” will be playing Feb. 17-21 at 8 p.m. in Toyon’s main lounge. There will be a special late show Friday, Feb.19 at 10:30. Admission is free for all persons, and seats can be reserved online at the Web site http://shakespeare.stanford.edu.