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Theatre Southwest Gets the Shakes

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The Setup

: Theatre Southwest makes its first foray into the thicket of Shakespeare, and emerges bloodied but, we hope, unbowed.

The Execution: The company's courage is to be commended for tackling a comedy, more difficult than historical drama.  The Merry Wives of Windsor is a charming but lightweight effort about Falstaff's attempt to breach the citadels of two married ladies, and the ladies' more successful efforts to thwart him. Very few of the cast of 19 - this is indeed an ambitious undertaking - come within shouting distance of Shakespearean cadence, but this flaw is a common occurrence on American stages.

Kathy Drum sparkles with energy as the avaricious Mistress Quickly, John Kaiser delights with Gallic charm as Dr. Caius, and Jackie Lovell as Mistress Ford captures the appeal and slyness of a married woman past the first blush of youth. John J. Zipay, Scott Holmes, Sam Martinez and Robert Lowe deliver the vigor needed for the Bard's work, but Stephen Foulard in the key role of Master Ford does not, and his portrayal weakens the many scenes. Cheryl Tanner is a shade too mannered as Mistress Page, and the gifted John Williams Stevens is sadly miscast as Falstaff, lacking the girth, though unconvincing padding attempts to hide this. He seems to be more cerebral than visceral, and too aware that Falstaff is a figure of fun. Todd Thigpen as Slender gets his laughs, but his acting style seems borrowed from a more contemporary play. David Bradley serves well in the minor role of Rugby. Young lovers Anne Page (Paige Seber) and Fenton (Dan Cato) are attractive but lack fire. The work is directed by Trevor B. Cone, and the entrances and exits are brisk. If the dialogue sags, the body language of many of the actors adds to the humor, one of the hallmarks of good direction. The costumes are excellent, except for a fake beard worn by Master Ford, which looks as though he is swallowing a beaver. The set is simple, as it would have been in the 16th century, and the music, composed by Mitchell Westmoreland, is effective.

The Verdict: We hope Theatre Southwest will be encouraged by its success, though limited, in climbing the Everest that is Shakespeare, and attempt another assault in the near future.

(Through March 12. Theatre Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505)

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