Shakespeare Project pays homage to Bard’s barfly

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Arguably the most famous comic character William Shakespeare ever created, Sir John Falstaff, womanizer and wastrel, appears in "Henry IV," Parts 1 and 2, and "Henry V," where his death is given some attention. But it is in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" that Falstaff really comes into his own.

Shakespeare most often puts Falstaff in the Boar’s Head Tavern, where he holds forth among his cronies, Pistol, Randolph et. al. This summer, the rascal can be seen in parks in all five boroughs, in his own play, "Falstaff," presented by The Shakespeare Project.

Director Scott Cargle and The Shakespeare Project, have taken elements from all four plays in which Falstaff appears, added masks (designed by Suzanne Savoy), puppets, dance and incidental music to create something definitely Shakespearean yet overwhelmingly modern.

There’s all of Shakespeare’s wicked humor here, as the licentious braggart with the formidable belly pursues his perpetual quest of rich women to support his wayward life. There’s also a good deal of the "Three Stooges," Abbott and Costello, and even Lucille Ball. Indeed, one can hear a touch of "Fiddler on the Roof," when for a moment Falstaff hums, "If I Were a Rich Man."

This production features a cast of four actors who play more than 20 parts.

John Ahlin, sporting a bright red shirt that strains over his huge pouch, stars as Falstaff. A veteran of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and Goodspeed Opera House in Chester, Conn., Ahlin comes well equipped for the role and acquits himself admirably. As he plots his next move and prances about the stage, the audience waits gleefully for Falstaff’s inevitable downfall.

Most important, as Shakespeare intended, he makes Falstaff so enthusiastically earthy, that he’s thoroughly engaging.

Theresa Amoon is Mistress Ford, wife of Lord Chief Justice Ford, the lovely lady who schemes with Mistress Quickly (Cecelia Antoinette) to foil Falstaff’s conniving seductions and show him for the fool he is. With a fine sense of irony, and aided by false noses, silly glasses and outlandishly billowy dresses and headdresses, they present their characters as every bit as foolish as Falstaff.

David Logan Rankin does yeoman’s work as Pistol and Randolph, two followers of Falstaff; Doctor Caius; Sir Hugh Evans and a large puppet doll. But he really shines as Ford, who struts about in magisterial robes and a wig that appears to be made of almost depleted toilet paper rolls. He is the avenging husband, who first mistrusts then cleverly intercedes on his wife’s behalf.

Scottie Scott has built a portable, minimalist set, composed of a stage and a few panels and pillars, which fits nicely into the verdant surroundings and allows the actors to incorporate the lawn and occasionally even the audience into the play. The set also opens up the behind-the-scene, by permitting the audience to watch the actors hurriedly changing costumes to the side of the stage.

Dawn Avery has composed a few zany pieces of music for accordion, xylophone, percussion and strings. Some of the music is pre-recorded; some is played live by cellist Heidi Vincent.

Original music alternates with the recorded theme song from the TV show "Mission: Impossible." Falstaff and his women dance to an energetic tango.

Contributing to the foolishness, David Brimmer has choreographed some fanciful sword fighting - pitting a parasol against a fly swatter. The audience witnesses lots of falling, stumbling and feinting, but thankfully, no blood.

Running about 90 minutes, "Falstaff" has no complicated reversals or confusing subplots. It’s a simple, slapstick comedy about a man, literally too big for his britches, who is taken down a peg or two.

The Shakespeare Project, which has won critical acclaim for productions of "Communicat­ions from a Cockroach: archy and the underside," "Venus and Adonis" and "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," has once again staged an audience-friendly production perfect for the entire family. What a treat for a warm summer evening!


The Shakespeare’s Project "Falstaff" will be performed in Brooklyn at Sunset Park (41st Street and Fifth Avenue) on Aug. 8 and at Fort Greene Park (top of the park, Cumberland and DeKalb avenues) on Aug. 15. Both performances are at 6 pm. Admission is free. Call (212) 332-9183 prior to performance for updated information.

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