Don’t mess with “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” That’s what Falstaff learns in Shakespeare’s comedy, at First Folio Theatre’s outdoor stage, July 9-Aug. 10.
Brian McCartney plays that rascally Sir John Falstaff. Taking that role fulfilled a long-time goal for McCartney who played the part of one of Falstaff’s cronies during his freshman year of college in what was his first Shakespeare play. “I distinctly remember sitting back watching this grad student play Falstaff and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do someday.’ I finally get my chance.”
The actor described Falstaff as, “A legend in his own mind. He has to use his wiles and his resourcefulness to get what it is he wants. But, above all else, he has to keep that image that is so important to him.”
McCartney admitted that Falstaff is “incredibly dishonest,” but he does have his virtues. “He’s charming,” the actor declared, insisting, “Deep down, he’s just looking to be liked.”
Unfortunately, Falstaff is broke, which makes maintaining his image more than a little tricky. His answer is to try to seduce two wealthy married women, Mistress Page (Patrice Egleston) and Mistress Ford (Lydia Berger Gray).
He has met his match, though — and then some.
Egleston said that Mistress Page is “a modern woman in Elizabethan times. She knows who she is. She knows what she wants. She doesn’t put up with men who think they’re better than she is.” Mistress Page does have a great sense of humor, though. “She’s pretty bawdy — but in a refined way,” Egleston insisted.
Mistress Ford is an equally feisty contender for Falstaff. “She’s down to earth,” Gray said. “For the time it was written, she’s very much a modern woman — a woman that you could very well find right now planted in the end of the 1500’s. I love her because she has her own identity. She doesn’t identify herself through her husband, which was very progressive for that time.”
Mistress Ford is a “Merry Wife” because “she finds fun in everything,” Gray said.
Trying to manipulate these two strong women doesn’t bode well for Falstaff. McCartney admitted, “He’s playing a very dangerous game.”
The two women “decide to take a situation that could be taken in the wrong way and conspire to have fun with it,” Gray related.
“He has endangered the safety and status of two married women by putting their fidelity in question,” Egleston explained. “His punishment is not that rough.”
Gray added, “I’m sure there are some people that would think, ‘Oh, poor Falstaff’ at the end, but he started it!”