Onstage / An all-female Merry Wives of Windsor
Kate Konigisor and Josie DiVincenzo starred in the all-female MacBeth in 2010.
Photo courtesy of Shakespeare in Delaware Park
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Shakespeare in Delaware Park
By William Shakespeare
Director: Eileen Dugan
Cast: Pamela Rose Mangus, Kate Konigisor, Priscilla Young Anker, Victoria Perez, Charmagne Chi, Julia Register, Caitlin Bauemler Coleman, Michelle Holden, Jacqueline Libby, Darleen Pickering Hummert, Diane DiBernardo, Josie DiVincenzo, Hayley Philyaw, Arianne Davidow, Tracy Snyder, Shelby Ebeling, Gianna Palermo
Shakespeare in Delaware Park is serving up The Merry Wives of Windsor, only in this version, it isn’t just the wives who are female. The concept was the brainchild of SDP founder Saul Elkin, who brought it to Eileen Dugan, the Artie Award-winning director of the all-female Macbeth in 2010. And, as with that play, there will be no story change attached to the casting choice—just an opportunity to make use of the wealth of female talent in Western New York (indeed, more than 100 women showed up for auditions!).
“I was asked when we did MacB what I was going to ‘do’ with the women,” says Dugan. “Would they be in Queendom of Lesbians? Would the roles be changed to female characters? I never thought of trying to do some concept women thing, whatever that might be. I was excited to work with talented actors who happened to be women, and we approached the play that simply. The women played male characters, and the audience accepted them. (I was always really happy when someone would say, ‘After five minutes, I forgot they were women.’) It will be the same for Merry Wives. I’m not going to try to have some feminist “statement” going on. It doesn’t serve the play.”
Dugan is quick to praise the opportunity that all-female casting in Shakespeare provides, as most of the Bard’s plays—in an era where men played women—were heavily male. At best, his casts might have included five women and, at worst, one. And, of course, the meatiest roles always went to the men; never would a woman be given a role like Macbeth. With its cast of eighteen—Macbeth had twenty—Merry Wives will provide a lot of great character work for women.
Beyond casting, Dugan doesn’t anticipate much similarity between these two plays, either on stage or in rehearsal. “This is broad comedy—is that a completely inappropriate pun?—MacB, dark tragedy. Merry Wives is almost all in prose, MacB, in poetry,” she says. “They are just so different in intent, themes, style, design. This is a play about silly characters, about bits and jokes—MacB was short on those—and everyone can contribute to making those work.
“Merry Wives is kind of an odd Shakespeare play,” Dugan continues. “Queen Elizabeth loved the character of Falstaff so much, that she requested that Shakespeare write him into a comedy. She wanted to see ‘Falstaff in love.’ So, although Falstaff had died in Henry V, Shakespeare accommodated his sovereign with The Merry Wives of Windsor. It’s essentially a farce. Falstaff, down on his luck, cooks up a scheme to seduce two wealthy wives and reap the bounty of their bodies and bank accounts. The wives’ revenge, and Falstaff’s comeuppance, is the main plot. In addition, a young girl tricks her parents to escape marriage to either of their chosen suitors, and a jealous husband is proven a fool who then changes his ways. Its characters are broad, and it has a small-town feel; people gossip, play pranks on one another, hold grudges, mock each other, share in jokes, and ultimately stick together in friendship and community.”
Dugan isn’t high on concept productions, but does like to consider the time period. “I like to see real costumes, and if I don’t go to an actual dated period, I think in terms of ‘Shakespeare Land,’ basically, women in long dresses, men in something pretwentieth century. For this, I wanted the lines of the American Colonial period, for a couple of reasons. I love the line of the skirted coats of that time, and they also follow the lines of women: they can disguise, or accommodate, lady hips. Same for the longer waistcoats—to help conceal breasts—and it was a time that men wore pony tails and curls, so the women’s hair wouldn’t be problematic.” When costume designer Laurel Walford pointed out that Dugan was drawn to the “autumnal” fabrics, she said she liked the idea that the play takes place at harvest time, when everyone is about to “reap what they have sown.”
That kind of pragmatism is behind Dugan’s aesthetic. “Many, many of the people who come to the shows are not familiar with the story of the plays,” she explains. “I don’t think it’s necessary to show a ‘new’ version of Hamlet; for me, the most important thing is a clear version. What people say they don’t like about Shakespeare is they don’t understand it. For me, that’s the hurdle: if the audience can understand the story, they can enjoy it. I trust ol’ Shakespeare. He wrote some good stuff.”
Weather permitting and excepting Mondays, The Merry Wives of Windsor runs through July 16 on the hill in Delaware Park, beginning at 7:30 (shakespeareindelawarepark.org, 856-4533).