Play in the Park

Curtain Theatre’s latest is a very enjoyable trip to ‘Windsor’

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Russell Johnson The roguish Falstaff (Grey Wolf, left) is one of Shakespeare’s great scoundrels, in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’

For 20 years, Mill Valley’s Curtain Theatre has treated local audiences to admission-free, fully produced Shakespeare plays performed in the small, outdoor amphitheater in Old Mill Park. Whether they will continue to do so is now in the hands of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, which is vetting complaints from some neighbors who appear to be shocked—SHOCKED—that people actually use the park for its intended purposes.

In the meantime, Curtain Theatre proceeds with this year’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. The comedy runs weekends through Sept. 8. Not one of Shakespeare’s most critically revered plays, it commits the cardinal sin (to some) of actually being entertaining.

Described by one of the actors after a recent performance as “a terrible read, but great fun to watch,” it contains one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters—the portly Sir John Falstaff (Grey Wolf). He arrives in Windsor a little short on coin and decides the best way to rectify that is to woo two wealthy wives and seduce them out of their purses. Falstaff attempts to enlist his servants Nym (Steve Beecroft) and Pistol (Phillip Swanson) in his scheme, but they refuse and are dismissed. Seeking revenge on him, the ex-servants notify the husbands of the wives, Masters Ford and Page (Marc Berman and Mark Shepard), of Falstaff’s designs. Mistresses Ford and Page (Heather Cherry and Marianne Shine) have already figured out Falstaff’s plan, and plot his comeuppance.

Meanwhile, young Anne Page (Lily Jackson) is being pursued by three men—Slender (Anthony Rummel), French Doctor Caius (Beecroft again) and young Fenton (Dan DeGabriele). Each suitor has support from various family members and associates, and it should come as no surprise that the two storylines will connect by the play’s conclusion.

It’s interesting to note that in this play the female characters are all levelheaded, while most of the male characters are idiots. Director Kim Bromley posits this may be one of the reasons this play is often dismissed.

There’s a good ensemble at work here, led by Wolf’s charismatic Falstaff. He’s a rogue and a scoundrel, but you’re gonna like the guy. The same goes for the rest of the actors, who are mostly well cast and very entertaining—especially Beecroft’s Inspector Clouseau-ish Doctor Caius.

Dress warmly, bring a picnic, borrow one of the theatre company’s blankets and say goodbye to summer with a very enjoyable, light-hearted trip to Windsor.

‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ runs Saturday-Sunday through September 8 at the Old Mill Park Amphitheater, 352 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley. All shows 2pm. Free. curtaintheatre.org
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