The crowd was packed at The Best Place Tavern. It was 7:30 pm and it looked like everyone was wearing horns. It must have been something to do with the summer. Or maybe it had something to do with The Merry Wives of Windsor. Boozy Bard Productions’ Shakespeare Raw is hosting a decidedly unprepared staging of the classic comedy at the beginning of this week. It opened last night.
Stephen M. Wolterstorff serves as a warm and welcoming host for the evening. Opening night had suspiciously perfect casting. Nick Firer found himself in the role of arrogant bastard Sir John Falstaff. Firer had mentioned online that he hadn’t acted in 4 months, but the man has some excellent comic instincts which served him well in the middle of the ensemble. Firer had a very relaxed approach to this stage. There was a casually drunken fatigue comically lounging about his portrayal that served the role well. Falstaff’s total confidence, mixed cleverly with an exhaustion that amplified the subtle end of a very-unsubtle Shakespearian sitcom.
Brian Bayer showed similarly sharp comic instincts in the role of Falstaff’s sidekick Pistol. Brian also continued his tradition of performing a song at intermission inspired by the show. ‘90s pop twisted its way around a the comedy of Falstaff in the Thames in a laundry basket. Bayer’s sharpest moment involved a rather unexpected Johnny Cash parody song that fit almost perfectly into the comedy’s climax.
The free and open environment of the improv-style Shakespeare works well with the sitcom-like energy of Merry Wives. Dramas can have a tendency to be a bit hit-or-miss with the Shakespeare Raw format, but a light comedy like Merry Wives feels like the perfect fit. The tragedies can occasionally strike it brilliant onstage with Boozy Bard, but the comedies are reliable fodder for the group.
As always, the cast reads directly from scripts throughout the course of the performance. There’s a delightful sense of informality about that which is better suited to comedy than it is to tragedy. Characters seem somewhat lost in their own thoughts somewhere between the page and the stage. There is clearly a sense of playfulness about it. A story of trickery and deception seems to ricochet around the stage all the more wildly without any sense of elaborate preparation. At its best moments, it really DOES feel like anything can happen.
Director Drea Roedel-Schroeder does a really good job of holding everything together. The energy on opening night of this particular run felt coherent and cohesive. That doesn't always happen. There are a lot of elements that go into well-executed stage chaos. Roedel-Schroeder has fostered a really fun energy for a really fun show. Early-on in the evening before the show gets started, the cast assembles in the space’s balcony for one final huddle. Opening night Drea could be seen leaning over the balcony and looking directly an actor sitting below as all the rest of the actors were assembled above. There's a light tone in her voice: “Don’t make me come down there.” The actor in question moved more or less immediately. It’s a fun atmosphere. The energy moved quickly and fluidly opening night.
Boozy Bard’s. Production of The Merry Wives of Windsor (Raw) continues through Wednesday,, July 12th at The Best Place in the Historic Pabst Brewery on 917 West Juneau Avenue. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook Events Page.