A good brand is good business. In the entertainment business, books, movies, and plays that build on established story-lines, set of characters, and loyal audience have a better assurance of getting a good return on the investment required to bring the product to the bookshelf, screen or stage. C. S. Lewis drew out his Narnia Chronicles to seven volumes. The Star Wars sagas have eight movies as canon (with the ninth set to release December 20, 2019). Shakespeare has several history plays in Parts I, II, or even III. Then there are the spin-offs of memorable characters that rate their own shows. My youth had Leverne and Shirley from Happy Days (which was also spun-off from George Lucas’ American Graffiti movie), or Rhoda from The Mary Taylor Moore Show. Shakespeare took the jolly, drunken knight Falstaff, from Henry IV, Part I and Part II, and gave him his own play, The Merry Wives of Windsor. Five hundred years later, Amy Witting spins-off another character from the Merry Wives to create Anne Page Hates Fun.
The Blackfriar Theatre included these three shows in their winter, Renaissance Season. Henry IV, Part I and The Merry Wives of Windsor are Shakespeare’s plays performed around 1597/8. Amy E. Witting has written a new play, Anne Page Hates Fun, plucks a character from The Merry Wives of Windsor to update the theme to today’s world (which is really not that different from 1600 in many ways).
Henry IV, Part I is a testosterone driven royal history play. Power, power, power! David Anthonly Lewis, as King Henry VI, Brandon Carter, as his ne’re-do-well son Prince Hall, and KP Powel, as their rival Henry Percy “Hotspur” power this play with challenges, verbal onslaughts and battle-ready action. The crown prevails, squelching the rebels attempts to usurp the throne. Sir John Flastaff, a roguish knight is brilliantly brought, drunken and debaucherous, to the stage by John Harrell. Without Falstaff and his tavern companions, we too might suffer the fate of yet another soldier fallen in battle, as Walter Blunt does in act V, scene III, “who art thou? Sir Walter Blunt:- there’s honor for you”. A playwright best not slay his audience with too much mayhem.
Various speculations have floated about for 500 years about why Shakespeare wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor, shortly after Henry VI, Part I. Many of these appear to want to justify a play that is neither regal history, stunning tragedy, or noble comedy. The basic structure comes off as three sit-coms with jesters, stand-up comics, and satirical singers. In three episodes, Sir John Flastaff (John Harrell) tries to seduce the wives of Windsor to get into their knickers. Alice Ford (Abbi Hawk), Margaret Page (Meg Rodgers), her daughter Ann Page (Shunte Lofton) out-wit Falstaff and his band of ruffians. All is well in the end and we had a good laugh in the meantime. Fallstaff and his girth are the butt of the joke throughout the evening.
Anne Page Hates Fun questions the social attitudes behind comedy and relationships over the past 500 years (or more). Is a little philandering just guys-being-guy fun? Is the assumption that a man can seduce a woman acceptable? Is using one’s authority, power, and trust a reason to cop-a-feel or gratified one’s sexual longing? Are the feminist protests, Me-Too movement, Senate hearings about Supreme Court nominee’s college indiscretions, and intoxicated date-rape conducive to finding love, or a road to loneliness? Power, power, power!
Anne Page Hates Fun brings us to a small town, Windsor, in New England. Anne Page (Meg Rodgers) teaches high school, covering The Merry Wives of Windsor each senior year. A foreign exchange student, Aalysahessam (Shunte Lofton), writes a sharp essay on the role of the women in the play, questioning both Western culture’s attitudes toward women, as well as her own upbringing in a Muslim dominated region of Africa. Charley Garvey (Christopher Johnston), a writer-blocked writer, come to town for the annual Christmas celebration. He and Anne are haunted by his parent’s death a decade or more before, as well as their mutual loneliness. I shall give no spoilers as to the plot. Let’s just say that at intermission, I suggested to the concessions staff that they should be selling tissue packets as well as coffee, wine, beer, and cider (I’ll take two of the later, please, to get us through the second half of the show).
Anne Page Hates Fun is part of the American Shakespeare Center’s playwriting challenge to develop new plays, “Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries”. If you live near a theatre which produces Shakespeare plays, call the manager and request that they explore this play. And, bring your own package of tissues.