Low on cash yet confident of his sexual appeal, Falstaff (Alan Blumenfeld) plots to seduce the wives of well-off Windsor residents and sends identical love letters to Mistress Page (Karen Reed) and Mistress Ford (Elizabeth Tobias). After comparing notes, the two friends conspire to humiliate him. Through Mistress Quickly (Melora Marshall again — I liked her better here than as Titania), the town’s matchmaker-for-hire, they invite Falstaff to a series of assignations. Each time, the arrival of Master Ford (Ted Barton) forces Falstaff into a preposterous and painful escape — hidden under laundry in a wheelbarrow and dumped into the river; dressed in women’s clothes and beaten with a cudgel.
Our sense of humor has not deteriorated as much as we might think in 400 years. Elizabethans made fun of fat people and foreign accents. (Doctor Caius, a Frenchman, offers to “make the third” in a group of duelers— pronouncing “third” without the “h”). “Wives” contains one-liners that would not be out of place in an Adam Sandler movie. Watching Falstaff flee in drag, Sir Hugh Evans (a charming Gerald C. Rivers) solemnly remarks, “I like it not when a woman has a great beard.”
Falstaff’s final humiliation, when he is terrorized by the gleefully howling townspeople, has always struck me as creepy. All right, the guy thinks too highly of himself. No need to go all Manson family on him. Fortunately, director Ellen Geer (the company’s artistic director and a daughter of its founder) gets through this scene quickly, focusing on the happier themes of reconciliation and a community restored.
Blumenfeld is an excellent Falstaff. But he’s actually the straight man. The real star is Master Ford, the jealous husband desperate to catch his wife in flagrante. Barton plays up poor Ford's maniacal rage with an empurpled complexion and bulging eyes. The word that kept occurring to me was “apoplectic.” It works.
Both productions are unpretentious, high-spirited, and fun. Don't forget the kids, cushions for the wooden bleachers, and sweaters.
-- Margaret Gray