If you have a passion for Shakespeare’s humorous characters, you have to have a place in your heart for one of the Bard’s most memorable, Falstaff. Shakespeare introduced the characters as a sidekick for Prince Hal in “Henry IV, Part 1.” Falstaff takes center stage in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” which will be playing at the Folger Theatre in Washington D.C. until March 1, 2020. There is much speculation about the play, but one of the more interesting theories is that it was written at the request of Queen Elizabeth I who wanted to see Falstaff fall in love.
This production which is directed by Aaron Posner will be set in the 1970s. Posner explains the reasoning, “For a story about smart women taking matters into their own hands, setting the play in a mythologized version of the early 1970s, a time when women’s lib was finding its footing, seemed like a really fun idea. Women were trying on a new power, a new freedom, and the world (along with their husbands) were figuring out a new paradigm. Though the play deals with real things such as love, lust, marriage, ego, and jealousy. The characters are larger than life and the situations verge on the farcical, making for a rollicking good ride.”
The ensemble for “The Merry Wives of Windsor” include Regina Aquino as Mrs. Page, Ami Brabson as Mrs. Ford, Eric Hissom as Ford, Cody Nickell as Dr. Caius, Kate Eastwood Norris as Miss Quickly (another character from the Boar’s Head Tavern in “Henry IV, Part 1”), Todd Scofield as Sir Hugh Evans and the veteran classical actor, Brian Mani as the unforgettable, Falstaff. Also featured in the production are Linda Bard, Danielle Gallow, Tommy A. Gomez, Brian Reisman, Dante Robert Rossi, Tyee Tilghman and Derrick Truby.
Four-time Helen Hayes Award Winner, Tony Cisek is the Scenic Designer. Devon Painter is Costume Designer, Max Doolittle is Lighting Designer and Matthew Nielsen designed the sound and composed some original music.
I had a chance to entice Mrs. Quickly (Kate Eastwood Norris) away from the Boar’s Head Tavern for a quick interview. Norris has appeared in over a dozen plays at the Folger Theatre and in many plays in the metropolitan area. She has been nominated for several Helen Hayes awards and won the award for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “She Stoops to Comedy.”
Bio: Kate Eastwood Norris (Mistress Quickly) – Folger Theatre: “1 Henry IV,” “King John,” “Macbeth” (2018, 2008), “Mary Stuart,” “The Taming of the Shrew” (Helen Hayes nomination), “Hamlet: Now I Am Alone,” “The School for Scandal,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Helen Hayes Award), “Much Ado About Nothing,” “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “Twelfth Night,” “As You Like It,” “She Stoops To Conquer,” “The Tempest,” “Hamlet (1999)”; Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: “Stupid F***ing Bird” (Helen Hayes nomination), “Full Circle,” “Fever/Dream,” “She Stoops To Comedy” (Helen Hayes Award), “Big Love, Bug”; Arena Stage: “The Book Club Play”; Source Theatre: “Intimate Exchanges” (Helen Hayes nomination), “Private Eyes”; Round House Theatre: “A Body of Water”; Washington Shakespeare Company: “Strange Interlude” (Helen Hayes nomination), “The Taming of the Shrew.” Regional: Actors Theatre of Louisville Humana Festival: “Gnit,” “Eat Your Heart Out”; Berkeley Repertory Theatre: “Concerning Strange Devices From The Distant West”; Shakespeare Santa Cruz: “Hamlet,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “The Playboy of the Western World,” “As You Like It,” “King Lear”; Portland Center Stage: “BoNita,” “The North Plan”; Florida Stage: “Ghostwriter”; Delaware Theatre Company: “Lucy.”
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
First of all, I am now a proud Marylander! After many, many, years on the road, my husband, Cody Nickell and I just bought a house south of Annapolis and are living the dream. The second thing folks might not know about me is that because I am often such a goofball, most people are not aware that I just finished getting two Masters degrees, partly to fulfill teaching requirements, and partly because I am just curious and love to learn. My Dad always says, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know” and I might as well get that tattooed somewhere. I love both the challenge and the humility of that idea.
- As an actor what is the difference for preparing to be in a Shakespearean play or a modern drama, if any?
I tend to think that in Shakespeare’s plays what I mean to say is what is written and in modern plays what I mean to say may not be what I am saying at all. Also, in Shakespeare, you think as you speak and there are few pauses, whereas in more modern plays I can envision an actor pausing for a few beats to think before they speak. There are other elements that differ and therefore involve a different sort of attack, but the language is the area that most affects my preparation.
- You have done several plays for the Folger. What do you enjoy most about performing on that stage?
I cannot believe how much time I have spent romping around every nook and cranny of that theatre- many of its architectural features delight me, (even the columns!) but I think my favorite aspect of the Folger space is how well it can hold the emotionally expansive acting that Shakespeare demands yet remain so intimate. In other words, I could fall to my knees and implore the heavens one moment then simply raise an eyebrow for the next and the audience can register and accept all of it. Accessibility to the audience is a necessity in Shakespeare, at least it is the way I like to perform it, and even when the audience is in darkness, at The Folger I always feel with them that wonderful connection.
- What is your favorite role (or roles) and why?
I am firmly out of ingenue status and that brings with it the cold hard fact that the already small stream of available classical roles for women has dwindled to a trickle. However, more and more theaters are open to cross-gender casting or even switching the gender of roles and that gives me hope. I have had the good fortune of experiencing this sort of gender play so my dream roles now naturally include that sort of casting. The trickle is suddenly a river! I also have made a career of working on new plays, and some of the roles for women that are being written as we speak, I look forward to reading and hopefully playing someday.
- Is there a Shakespearean role you would like to perform in the future?
I am very interested in “Richard II” at the moment. I have always wanted to play Cassius in “Julius Caesar” and Emilia in “Othello.” I am certain I have another Beatrice from “Much Ado” in me and Tamora from “Titus Andronicus” has got to occur someday or I will do something rash.
“The Merry Wives of Windsor” is the final production to be staged in the historic and intimate Folger for a bit as the Folger Shakespeare Library will be getting a renovation starting in March 2020 and will reopen in 2022. The Folger Theatre will then bring its shows on the road in collaboration with other Washington theatres. Go to the link for information about the renovation project.
“The Merry Wives of Windsor” is on stage at Folger Theatre from January 14 through March 1, 2020. Discounted preview performances and special rates for patrons under 30, students, seniors, members and family of the military, educators, and groups may be purchased through the Folger Box Office at (202) 544-7077 or online.
There are several special events along with performances for “The Merry Wives of Windsor” go online for information concerning these talks and events.
To see a spotlight video on Kate Eastwood Norris go to YouTube.