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Hilarious Falstaff and Quickly top Huntington production

Hilarious Falstaff and Quickly Top Huntington's Superb Production

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR

Written by William Shakespeare.

Directed by Edward Gilbert.

Starring Jack Aranson, Tanny McDonald,

Munson Hicks, Robin Moseley, Ross

Bickell, and Gary Sloan.

At the Huntington Theatre, until April 1.

By NEIL J. ROSS

THE HUNTINGTON THEATRE'S production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, under the direction of Edward Gilbert, is a delight to watch, with a nice balance of farce and wit. The weave of plots is deftly managed and the characters interact well on stage.

Jack Aranson's imposing figure immediately reinforces the traditional view of Sir John Falstaff, the dissolute knight, as a robustly healthy man, while clearing the way for his endurance of the hardships into which his lasciviousness leads him. His drinking companions don't seem to be the sort of people you would like to meet outside the theater after the show. They exude the sort of blatant opportunism summed up in Pistol's words, "The world is mine oyster which I with sword shall open."

Tanny McDonald and Robin Moseley, as the merry wives (Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford, respectively), infuse a little impish mischief into their early dealings with Falstaff, neatly presaging Falstaff's final ordeal in the wood.

The contrast between Munson Hicks' easy-going Mr. Ford and John Henry Cox's distrustful Mr. Page is made visible in the contrast between Ford's light beige and brown rustic clothes and Page's black and dark blue costume. When confronted with the news of Falstaff's activities, Page is rightly played as the contemplative man who only gradually succumbs to the jealousy which his wife predicted.

Sandra Shipley's Mrs. Quickly is superb, capturing the essence of a working class, practical cockney woman who, like the merry wives, is capable of assessing other characters with penetrating insight. Among the wealth of her other acting details, her well-observed hand and arm gestures are a pleasure to see.

The Welsh parson, Sir Hugh Evans (Tony Aylward), is especially good as the leader of the children at the end of the play, where he naturally captures the kindergarten teacher manner.

Just as Aranson's Sir John is buffered from his misfortune by his physical bulk and his inflated opinion of himself, so Slender (Eric Swanson) -- being out of touch with romance -- and Dr. Caius the French physician (Gary Sloan) -- being unable to speak English properly -- are cushioned against their misfortune, allowing us to thoroughly enjoy the antics. Swanson's Slender is wonderfully childish, naive and inarticulate while Sloan's Dr. Caius is effete and foppish, making him an ideal target for the mockery the script provides.

Frank Groseclose's Justice Shallow mixes staidness, a certain boastful reminiscence, and a little reprehension to make a convincing old country gentleman.

John Fabella's set and Mariann Verheyen's costumes carry us to a pre-Tudor time as the connections of The Merry Wives of Windsor to Shakespeare's Henry V plays require.

Overall the careful attention to acting and staging details of the play make this production well worth going to see.