Why don’t women rule the world? I’m asking.
They know more about conflict, about love, about problem-solving and combat and the stamina to get through it. They’re built to break and bleed, to adapt and regenerate. And not only do they persevere, they have the generosity to show us how they did it.
I’m speaking in generalities, of course.
But if there’s one takeaway from Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s utterly delicious production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” which runs through July 16, it’s that women know more about men than men know themselves.
We glean this from director Eileen Dugan’s extraordinary vision, in which women play every part. The distinguished males and the hapless boys. The fierce women and the foolish girls.
Falstaff, Shakespeare’s ever-present man-boy-beast thing who appears in three of the Bard’s plays – both comedy and tragedy – is gross, misogynistic, in love with himself and incredulous of the smart women around him. Sound familiar?
Dugan has employed the gender-bending treatment here. Her 2010 staging of “Macbeth” was, by all accounts, a brilliant production. Every summer, I remember my regret for having missed it. I imagine the politics in that poetry, of women embodying these male figures not merely for casting fun, but for the juicy commentary on what it means to be a man in power.
Even in this far lighter story, one of Shakespeare’s lightest comedies (and academically disregarded ones, too), we see right through the shtick and understand what’s being said.
That said, it would be shortsighted to see this treatment as a strictly political agenda. It is, perhaps first and foremost, an exercise in theatrics. As we know, Shakespeare’s plays were performed by men in his day. Last summer’s all-male “Twelfth Night” offered a delightfully authentic spin on this tradition. I imagine for the actors involved in either production, this opportunity pushes their artistic limits in redeeming and exciting ways. They sure seem to be having fun.
Pamela Rose Mangus embodies Sir John Falstaff with a hearty bravado and husky pace. Truth be told, she is as commanding and leading in this very male role as she is in any female role; this is her type. If only there were more of these roles written for women, because I’d want Mangus to play them. Her Falstaff is exemplary. This is how you straddle a bear.
Her performance brings up an observation. Some actors play their male roles as men would; that is, they are impersonating a man. Victoria Pérez’s hilarious Sir Evans, Caitlin Baeumler Coleman’s bumbling Robert Shallow and Charmagne Chi’s arrogant Dr. Caius all feel manly in a satirical way.
Meanwhile, some play their male roles with less overt masculinity. Michelle Holden’s cartoonish Abraham Slender, Kate Konigisor’s contemplative Mr. Ford and Arianne Davidow’s youthful Fenton all appear as feminine as their performers. This blending of character approach is inevitable in a company of 17-plus. It only further proves Dugan’s apparent point, which is that good actors deserve good parts, and that gender (or race, for that matter) really shouldn’t matter.
Amid these revelations, we also get to enjoy some divine comedy. Chi’s Dr. Caius is downright destructive. I heard adults laughing like tickled toddlers. If this isn’t Chi’s finest comedic characterization (let alone the finest Franck Eggelhoffer impression this side of YouTube), then I don’t know what is.
Julia Register’s effervescent Mistress Quickly made me wish for a spinoff. Her details are exquisite, her timing impeccable. Solid comedic turns from Diane Di Bernardo and Josie DiVincenzo, too.
Dugan’s done it again. What a treat, all of this talent on one stage, in this park. We’re so lucky.
"The Merry Wives of Windsor"
4 stars (out of four)
Runs through July 16 as part of Shakespeare in Delaware Park, Shakespeare Hill, behind the Rose Garden. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. It's free, but donations are welcome. Information: shakespeareindelawarepark.org, 856.4533