July 16, 2008

Shakespeare Updated at Murphys ‘Trailer Park’

By Lisa Millegan, The Modesto Bee, Calif.

Jul. 16--MURPHYS -- Shakespeare gets a 1980s makeover in Murphys Creek Theatre's "The Merry Wives of Windsor."

Cast members wear rock 'n' roll T-shirts, tight jeans and heavy-metal hair and play out their scenes in a trailer park.

The updated setting is a clever choice by director Graham Scott Green and works well given the comedy's bawdy jokes and lowbrow pranks. But the show, which is staged outdoors in Stevenot Winery's wooded amphitheater, wasn't up to par at Friday's opening-night performance because of poor casting and actors who seemed to have trouble remembering their lines.

"Merry Wives" centers on the mischievous knight Falstaff, who tries to simultaneously seduce two married women to gain access to their husbands' money. The women immediately figure out what he is up to and set about getting their revenge.

Eric Owens, who stars as Falstaff, portrays the knight as an incorrigible slacker who would rather sit around drinking than do any work. Owens acts self-serving and arrogant, which fits the character.

But he isn't the best choice for the role because he is neither particularly old nor fat, two important traits of Falstaff that are constantly brought up in the play. While Falstaff is supposed to look repulsive, Owens looks like he'd have no trouble seducing women.

Bev Woodland and Terry Richardson are the best of friends as Mistresses Ford and Page, the targets of Falstaff's amorous affections. They gossip and laugh at the knight behind his back and take great joy in humiliating him. But on Friday, the performers didn't always seem to know their lines. There were sometimes awkward pauses in their scenes. They weren't the only people in the cast who had that trouble. Other performers also at times appeared to struggle to find what words to say next.

Green is tense as jealous husband Master Ford, who constantly worries about his wife's fidelity. He has some of the best comic scenes as he tries unsuccessfully to catch Falstaff in the act of hitting on his wife. Stephen Daily is calm and even-tempered as trusting husband Master Page.

With her lively personality and down-home country accent, Allison Blackwell turns the minor role of Host of the Garter Inn into one of the most entertaining parts. Vickie Hall also adds sparkle to the production as the Pages' firecracker of a daughter, Ann.

Young and handsome Thomas Smith shows his versatility by playing two of Ann's three suitors -- one a conservative prep and the other a passionate French doctor. Martha Omiyo Kight is amiably sneaky as Mistress Quickly, who passes messages between the characters.

The 1980s setting is established with Ann Mazzaferro's wild costumes and musical snippets from Bon Jovi, Tina Turner, ABBA and Madonna. Tyler Mattson, Laura White and Brian James expertly created Windsor Mobile Home Estates with campers, an office, lawn chairs and a giant Elvis poster.

Stevenot Winery's amphitheater is a lovely setting to enjoy a picnic dinner before and during the show. If you go, don't forget to bring bug spray, a sweater or blanket for the cooler evening temperatures and a flashlight. It is very dark in the pathways beyond the amphitheater.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or [email protected]


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