After a sojourn last summer in Bicentennial Park during major construction at its home theater, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park has returned to the Myriad Botanical Gardens Water Stage.
This homecomings a welcome return. Moving to the Water Stage three years ago is the best thing that ever happened to OSP, and once the kinks are worked out, the renovated outdoor amphitheater should provide an excellent opportunity for the company, now entering its 27th season, to grow and improve.
Relocating to a new performance space is a discombobulating experience (just ask the folks at Carpenter Square Theatre), so OSP is easing back onto home turf with a fairly lightweight season, starting with The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeares situation comedy about life and lust in the Elizabethan middle class.
In Merry Wives, Sir John Falstaff lusts after Mistresses Ford and Page (or really after their husbands money); Master Ford lusts for revenge against Falstaff; and a couple of knuckleheads named Abraham Slender and Dr. Caius lust for the hand of Pages daughter, Anne, who loves a cipher named Fenton. Thats it.
Jon Haque, a terrific comic actor or comic mugger plays the portly Falstaff, and he carries the show just as Falstaff must. Haque pays atten tion to detail in creating the character, and hes a joy to watch. It would be interesting to see him play more dramatic roles.
Master Ford equals Falstaff in importance, and young Aaron Wertheim eventually proves up to the task. Ford has the plays last and best line when he gives Falstaff an unexpected reverse comeuppance.
Hal Kohlman directs the production, taking a safe approach. He keeps the pace crisp, although the show still runs almost three hours. This is not the Windsor of 2011, where the locals fuss over the marriage of William and Kate. Played in Robert Pittenridges sharp Elizabethan costumes, this Merry Wives comes off as sort of, well, merry.
The acting varies. The reliable Michael Gibbons is fine as Master Page, as is Leavell Johnson as Host of the Garter Inn. Joel Behne plays Abraham Slender, one of Annes suitors, as a fey sissy-pants, creating a subtext that may or may not have occurred to the Bard. Experts disagree.
In returning to the Water Stage, OSP has to deal with some unusual issues for a theater company. The open-air theater is across the street from the under-construction Devon tower; work goes on during performances, creating a constant, low-level drone of industrial white noise.
This shouldnt necessarily be a big problem as OSP figures out how
to adapt to and stage plays in the space under present conditions. Its
directors will have to help actors, and actors will have to use their
diaphragm and diction as theyve been trained. As Mama Rose says in
Gypsy, Sing out, Louise! This is another transitional season for OSP
and its audience, but the future holds great promise.