What more fun than to see a rogue undone,
And what better rogue than Shakespeare's Sir John.
Knight, knave and buffoon whose cowardice was only exceeded by his audacious conniving, Sir John Falstaff was one of Shakespeare's best-loved characters. In a life defined by wine, women and song, he became an anti-hero of the Elizabethan stage in the Henry IV historical dramas.
If Falstaff has a modern counterpart, it took the Star Bar Players' opening night presentation of The Merry Wives of Windsor to remind me that it's the late British comedian Benny Hill. Best known for his television sketch show, Hill spent his time lusting after women only to flee with a mob in chase when his lascivious intentions were revealed.
Falstaff not only exhibits many of Hill's traits, but director Mark Hennessy and his talented actors have harnessed this theme to invigorate one of Shakespeare's lesser-known works with an energy that literally leaps off the stage.
But first to the play.
Falstaff, played by the rambunctious David Plambeck, embarks on a plan to seduce two respectable housewives to gain access to their husbands' fortunes. The wives, mischievously portrayed by Crystal Verdon and Jane Fromme, are horrified to be wooed by such a wretch and they concoct a plan to teach Falstaff a lesson.
In true Shakespearean style, the inauthenticity of Falstaff's romantic intentions is paralleled with a story of true love. Anne Page, played by a sassy Tori Humpert, is a voluptuous maid whose suitors include a French doctor, a Welsh parson and a village fool. But Page's true love is Fenton, a not-too-honorable dandy who does not meet with her parents' approval.
And therein lie the plots: Will the rogue get his just desserts ? Will the dandy fall for the maid? And will true love prevail? Have no fear, Shakespeare loves a Hollywood ending and this comedy is no exception.
Often an opening night is fraught with nerves as a show finds its rhythm, but this was not the case for The Star Bar Players last Friday. The action was well executed and the few stumbles were recovered easily, very often by clever ad-libs that added to the mirth.
Refusing to be limited by the size of the theater, the actors were all over the auditorium as well as on the streets and landmarks of our city -- to see how this was achieved you'll just have to go to the show.
Overall, the performances are wonderful and Kaleb Kohart's psychotically jealous Master Ford is a fearsome delight. Amy Brooks is hilarious as a foppish French doctor, and the slapstick antics of Sam Gleason and Doug Chartier created a sense of anticipation each time they walked, stumbled or were wheeled on stage.
The bare stage with few props is rendered unimportant by the physicality of the performances and an eclectic soundtrack ranging from the Batman theme to George McCrae's soul hit Rock Your Baby.
Roles are reversed, right is wronged and wrongs are finally righted. Falstaff's plans are thwarted just as Benny Hill never gets the girl. Of course true love prevails. We, the audience, live out our fantasies, guffaw at the foolhardy and root for the lovers.
In Merry Wives, Shakespeare wrote the endings we all love to live; The Star Bar Players bring them wonderfully to light in this raucous production.
-- Wayne Young capsule The Merry Wives of Windsor
Lon Chaney Theater, 221 E. Kiowa
Jan. 21, 22, 28, 29 and Feb. 4 and 5 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 6 at 2 p.m.
$15 or $12 students, seniors, military
Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. Special performance for middle and high school students. Cost $5, two adults free with 10 students