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Review: William Shakespeare's THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR Entertains at Austin's Historic Scottish Rite Theatre

Now playing in Austin's oldest playhouse, The Scottish Rite Theater, THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR delights theatre goers with its gender-bending cast and lively performance. Austin's Scottish Rite Theater is a most appropriate venue for such a play to be presented, giving the audience a passage through time within the Masonic grand hall adorned with decorative antiques around the house. THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, written by none other than William Shakespeare, commands any space with a high level of detail, and Scottish Rite Theater fits the bill. Given the historic nature of the theater itself, first opening in 1871 as a German Opera house, the play THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR was interestingly first published 269 years prior. The historic location introduces the audience immediately into another age and lends to the other worldly tone of the play's presentation. The experience within this show begins before the lights are up on the stage - a group of 'merry' players entertain the excited audience as they file in to find their seats. A bar, The Garter Inn, has an innkeeper polishing glassware as would any restauranteur on a Sunday afternoon. The mood is set well by The Weird Sisters Women's Theater Collective and when the curtain rises, the audience can disconnect and journey back into 15th century England.

This play un-ironically takes place in Windsor, England. Sir John Falstaff (played by Terry Galloway) attempts to seduce two married women, Mistress Ford (played by Jon Watson) and Mistress Page (played by Robert Deike), with identically written love letters. When his band of fellow miscreants refuse to deliver these letters, his friends turn foe and concoct a plan to thwart Sir Falstaff by telling the mistresses' husbands, Master George Page (played by Taylor Flanagan) and Master Frank Ford (played hilariously by Kristin Fern Johnson) of his devious plan. This causes quite a stir and serves as the master plot as the show progresses. Meanwhile three men of different creeds and backgrounds are courting the Page's daughter, Anne (played by Sean Gajjar) for marriage. Shakespeare's comedic premise is simple and becomes wildly funny through a few stand out scenes.

The quick witted and playful Mistresses, Ford and Page, lure Falstaff under false pretenses to play a masterful trick on him, with the help on their servants and a precariously placed laundry basket. The comedic timing of this scene was executed superbly by the gentlemen portraying the mistresses. The use of the Shakespearean style language progressed the highly entertaining scene and their vocal work provided a vehicle to add higher stakes and cause Falstaff to have no choice but to follow their instructions. The audience was roaring with laughter through this meticulously directed scene. The fast gags and picturesque direction enhanced the players' spontaneity on stage and made the scene greatly enjoyed by the audience. Following this scene, my personal favorite was Terry Galloway's portrayal of Falstaff's raunchy behavior and reflection on his current predicament. After arriving sopping wet from the Mistresses trick, Galloway's soliloquies are hilarious in his self-reflection. Galloway is a Shakespearean actor to the core - the language is beautifully communicated and her choices are strong, yet remain spontaneous. To add to the excitement Kristin Fern Johnson's intense portrayal of Master Ford progresses the plot for the audience and has hilarious intensity with his plot to seize Falstaff and his wife in what he believes is adultery.

The portion of the story that was somewhat lost on the audience during this rendition of THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, was for Mistress Anne Page's many suitors and the hilarity that should ensue. The actors delivering this storyline did not use the Shakespearean language style to the best of their ability or match the flair executed by their fellow actors. Words were said with an underlying emotion, but felt disconnected from each other and proved hard to follow for the members of the audience trying to keep up.The duration of these scenes were funny, with sight gags, amusing tiffs and even a sword fight, however the meaning of how these scenes fit within the story was slightly lost.

This show highlights the best parts of Shakespearean writing and performance. Presented by the Austin Scottish Rite Theater & The Weird Sisters Women's Theater Collective, THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR is entertaining for the whole family, with the professional presentation, larger than life cast, and spot-on direction by Susan Gayle Todd. Highly recommended for the common theatre goer this show will impress with its professionalism and attention to detail. For the uncommon theatre goer, this show will entertain ALL who attend, and I dare say, make a Shakespearean fan yet!



BY: William Shakespeare





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