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Peculiar Pageantry: Merry Wives of Windsor

Play review: Merry Wives of Windsor at The Mount

Shakespeare & Co., the Lenox, Massachusetts-based resident theatre company at Edith Wharton's mansion, has often put on productions of great splendor and theatrical power. One that still stands out years later is Tina Packer's solo tour-de-force, "Shirley Valentine"--some of the best theatre I've ever seen, anywhere. So it was with great excitement to see this latest production, which Packer directs.

The vast set--an estimated 500 feet from end to sprawling end, to my best "guesstimate," and the cast of over 40 set the tone for the vastness of pageantry. Often, there were several actions going on at once--and with much tumbling and mime, felt almost circus-like.

But the play itself is a somewhat confusing one to start with, having a dozen or so little subplots competing for attention with a not-very-believable main plot.

And unfortunately, Ms. Packer's conception of the play grated against ours. she chose to set it in the American West--fine and well, except that the time period, hard enough in the 90-year span it was announced to be, included stray characters from far different time periods: Dr. Caius as a Louis-XIV-era Frenchman, and Ford, in his alternate persona as Brook, looking like a refugee from an Elvis Costello film shoot. I, for one, would rather a play that takes place within a short timespan pick one historical moment and stay with it.

Worse, yet, was the unintentional farce of hearing Shakespeare's words done up in Tennessee-Alabama hill accents. "forsooth" loses much of its power when transmuted to "fauoor-seuth." The language was further trampled by extensive and bothersome tampering with the script.

In fairness, we might have enjoyed the production more were it not for acts of God. The temperature was about 15 degrees (F) colder than it had been in our own town, an hour east but in a valley. We were not dressed for it and would have been unpleasantly chilled even during a fabulous time. Also, the actors clearly enjoyed themselves. They took sport in their roles, glee in their unaccustomed accents, and played off each other flawlessly. Many subtle and not-so-subtle gestures and expressions hinted at the power of what might have been. And they were all good, so much so that it's hard to pick a standout. (Hard, but not impossible; the prize goes to Jonathan Epstein as a fabulous Falstaff.

"The Merry wives of Windsor" runs through September 1 at The Mount's Mainstage. Call 413-637-3353 for ticket information and reservations.


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