If you don’t mind a couple of kids frolicking noisily in the grass behind you, or dogs barking from a nearby condo building, or motorcycles going by on Broadway, or an occasional flying insect, then you will have a good time on the lawn at Congress Park watching Saratoga Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”
This is the 13th year the troupe has offered free Shakespeare (contributions solicited and accepted at show’s end): an artistic boon to the Capital Region.
Last year’s “Twelfth Night” was set in Miami; this year, under David M. Girard’s direction, the play takes place in Saratoga during racing season in about 1930. With only a few lines tweaked here or there to ground the play in this familiar setting, the script works just fine, and the new time and place invite some fresh sound effects (the track’s starting bell to signal scene changes, and musical accompaniment), dialects and shtick (including a Groucho Marx impersonation).
‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’
WHERE: Saratoga Shakespeare Company, Congress Park, Saratoga Springs
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. July 18-20 and 23-27; 3 p.m. July 21 and 28
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 587-2166, www.saratogashakespeare.com
Keeping audience into it
For the most part, these big brush strokes are a guarantee that what’s happening onstage will be understood by the crowd spread out on the lawn. Much of the production is in your face, generally loud, with good miking and a slightly frenetic quality of the line readings and staging.
The cast — a number of whom are members of the Actors’ Equity — and Girard know that they have to reach far out over the apron to keep the audience involved, so what is missing in terms of subtlety is made up for by broad playing that gets the job done.
The play, which was written around the same time as “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” concerns the amorous (and pecuniary) adventures of Sir John Falstaff (Lary Opitz), a globe of a fellow who clumsily tries to get the attention of two married women, Mistress Ford (Brenny Rabine) and Mistress Page (Yvonne Perry).
Insulted, the women vow revenge, sometimes unwittingly involving their husbands (played, respectively, by Tim Dugan and David Baecker), and the play is largely made up of their attempts to get Sir Falstaff in trouble and expose him for the rogue he is.
Along the way, of course, there are other characters out to get what they want: the Pages’ daughter, Anne (Rigel Harris), eager to marry Fenton (Ethan Botwick) against her parents’ wishes; Mistress Quickly (Amy Prothro), a conniving maid who makes a buck by telling people what they want to hear; and Sir Hugh (Mark Cryer) and Doctor Caius (Richard Roe), who want revenge on the hostess (Kyrie Ellison) of The Garter Inn. In other words, subplots abound.
The show has no intermission, racing (hah!) as it must against waning daylight. The entire ensemble keeps the pace going, and if I say I particularly like the work of Rabine, Perry, Prothro, Harris, John Noble, and Matthew McFadden, it’s only by a nose. Everyone has bought into Girard’s conceit — indeed, probably, in rehearsal, contributed to its development — and performs with abandon.
In a show like this, and in a space like Congress Park, that’s the only way to go.