The Merry Wives of Windsor

Rated 4.0

Most productions of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor come crammed with period costumes recalling Olde England. But director Lynne Collins (of American River College) smartly transposes the setting into North Carolina after the Civil War and changes some food references to possum and gumbo. The concept works, with Confederate sabers, Southern gallantry and hooped skirts having evolved from Elizabethan styles.

Collins adds flourishes: Falstaff (Gary Wright as a carpetbagging Yankee) sings a lusty adaptation of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” thrusting his hips to give the line about “his terrible swift sword” ribald emphasis.

Collins redirects a few characters. Shakespeare’s Parson Hugh (Tim Orr), a Welshman who fractures Latin, becomes a mild preacher with a girlie pinup hidden in his Bible.

Shakespeare wrote Dr. Caius as a colorful Gallic caricature to amuse Elizabethans; actor Philip Charles Sneed does Caius with an ointment schtick—holding his butt and then sniffing his hands while the audience groans.

Mistress Page (Karyn Casl) and Mistress Ford (Rebecca Dines) display girlish vigor as they lure Falstaff into trap after trap. Casl’s Southern drawl, heard often this season, works best in comedy. Bearded, balding A.J. Schuermann does a fine slow burn as the outwardly patient Master Page (a sturdy Confederate vet).

Wright makes a younger-than-average Falstaff, rotund but still limber enough to do a cartwheel. It’s the Fat Knight played for laughs, with his selfishness displayed for all to mock. He isn’t menacing, or even particularly smart.

But the best comic performance comes from Ted Barton as Master Ford, driven mad by the suspicion that his wife is having a fling with Falstaff. Barton’s a scream as he tosses dirty laundry and races around the stage, hunting for his rival.