Dallas — British philosopher Owen Barfield once wrote to fellow philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: "There is a very real sense, humiliating as it might seem, in which what we generally venture to call our feelings are really Shakespeare's meaning.”
In Shakespeare Dallas’ summer season-opening production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, directed by Raphael Parry, this is exemplified by several women in the cast. Fitting, considering the title namechecks them.
Lydia Mackay and Connie Parry, playing mistresses Page and Ford, respectively, attack the notion of “how dare he….well let’s enjoy this at his expense” (for which there must be a complicated German word) in Falstaff’s proposed liaison. These housewives are anything but desperate. Lindsay Hayward’s Mistress Quickly trying, and succeeding, to con the conman Fallstaff is equally skillful, with that sense of “fate has me here, may as well make a profit.” Not to be outdone, Jo-Jo Stein as Anne Paige, serene and apart from the machinations around her, succeeds at the match that she intended despite massive interference.
This play is a love story, after all.
Raphael Parry, now in his 15th year as Executive and Artistic Director of Shakespeare Dallas, should no doubt be pleased with his product. His mission has been to keep Shakespeare accessible to a broad audience while simultaneously pushing the limits of the theater experience. For examples in Merry Wives, look no further than his colorful interpretation of early 20th-century dress and architecture, his pan-Asian introduction of Raja Brook (played with a delicate comedic balance by Ethan Norris), an Ottoman Host of the Garter (played with a conniving cheerfulness by Michael Stimac), and an early 20th-century model hearing aid for Justice Robert Shallow that’s used wonderfully for a punctuated comic effect.
All this lends credence to Parry’s mantra “death to all sit-and-stare theater,” as he has said in interviews.
The excellence extends beyond the women. In Robert Gemaehlich’s Dr. Caius, we see a full and convincing embrace of passionate absurdity in his hilarious physical comedy. During intermission, an audience member said “Bobby is doing a better Peter Sellers than Peter Sellers.”
Then there’s talented Steven Young as Falstaff, taking to heart the words of Yale professor and Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom, who often pointed out that two of Shakespeare’s characters, Hamlet and Falstaff, are “beyond the plays they inhabit.” In other words, these are characters of such great depth that the plays cannot contain them.
The entire cast has a “yes, and…” enthusiasm, with never-tiring efforts to take what their castmates give and build on it. It all flows elegantly together in a true ensemble.
» The Merry Wives of Windsor alternates with Octavio Solis' Quixote in the Shakespeare in the Park season. Beginning June 27, Merry Wives plays on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, with Quixote on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, at Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre at Tenison Park in East Dallas. Curtain is 8:15 p.m. Picnics, blankets, low-back chairs, and wine and beer welcome; no pets. The season closes July 22.