Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Husbands and Wives

October 16, 2010

Serena Evans, Christopher Benjamin and Sarah Woodward Photo: John Tramper

On Friday, I headed over to Santa Monica for the opening of Merry Wives of Windsor in a 2008 production from Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, which was kicking off its US and UK tour this year at the Broad Stage. We here in Los Angeles have been blessed with regular visits from the 13-year-old company for many years now, starting in its days under the direction of Mark Rylance when the troupe appeared as part of the now defunct UCLA Live International Theater Festival. These days, the Globe actors and crew have set up shop at the more inviting Broad Stage where they appeared last year in Love’s Labour’s Lost and their return in this most unproblematic of Shakespeare’s comedies is certainly one of the highlights of this year’s Broad season. It’s a lovely, simple, and very funny production, well received in London during it premiere in 2008 and again in revival there this past summer. It deserves to be a big hit here as well.

The play is most known for its central character and primary fool, Sir John Falstaff. His nearly delusional beliefs about his prowess and magnetism drive what is essentially a family comedy. It’s easy to understand why Verdi was drawn to this material, incorporating most of it in his appropriately titled opera, Falstaff. But the Globe players under original director Christopher Luscombe, have refocused the attention here on the two married couples, the Fords and the Pages, whose insecurities and good humor provide most of the laughs. The press around this production has invited audiences to think about Merry Wives as a precursor to the modern day sitcom. And while there is definitely an Ethel and Lucy vibe to the interactions between Alice Ford and Meg Page, this comparison may be too dismissive of not only the play's quality, but the gentle beauty of this staging. The set on this stop of the tour consists of little more than a circular stage with a rotating center and outer perimeter. There is a short wooden tower wall that is rotated to signify changes in scene from interior to exterior and which acts as a platform for the musical ensemble that accompanies the cast periodically. The beautiful Elizabethan costumes are nicely set off by the straightforward set.

The Globe Theater casts are typically excellent, and I was very impressed with the women at the crux of this one. Serena Evans and Sarah Woodward play Mrs. Page and Ford respectively with complete glee and impishness. Christopher Benjamin’s Falstaff was engaging, but subtle enough not to overwhelm the domestic comedy at the play’s heart. And while it’s not the Elizabethan Globe Theater, the Broad is an excellent site for this show given its warmth and intimacy. You should go. It runs through October 24 before it leaves for New York.

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