This summer’s Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF) centers one of the Bard’s most enigmatic and popular anti-heros, Sir John Falstaff. The Festival is mounting all three plays in which Falstaff appears: "The Merry Wives of Windsor," "Henry IV, Part 1" and "Henry IV, Part 2."
Founded in 1958, CSF is the second oldest Shakespeare Festival in the nation after the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
It’s not often that all three Falstaff plays appear in a single season of a theater company’s output. So actor Michael Winters, known for his portrayal of Taylor Doose, the self-serving mercantilist on television’s "The Gilmore Girls," will get an unusual opportunity to capture the full dramatic arc of the famous scoundrel.
"Much of Falstaff’s appeal is his lack of concern for the constraints of civilization," Winters says of Falstaff. "He has no concept of coloring inside the lines. His wit, shrewdness and almost complete lack of shame represent a kind of total freedom from what is expected of us in society. He brings a subversive joy to us, though we might not all want to have to deal with him in real life."
Falstaff’s behavior is a problem for Henry IV, whose son, Hal -- who will go on to become Henry V later in the trajectory of Shakespeare’s History Play cycle -- is under the big man’s sway.
"While Henry has a number of pressing state issues, Falstaff is definitely a thorn in his side," Denver actor Sam Gregory, who plays Henry IV, says. "He’s a bad influence on Hal, who represents the future of the Tudor line and of England itself."
Gregory also plays the early 20th century Shakespearean actor John Barrymore in Paul Rudnick’s "I Hate Hamlet."
The 1991 comedy tells the story of a Los Angeles television actor who comes to New York to play Hamlet and has second thoughts. The actor rents Barrymore’s old apartment and the ghost of the renowned actor appears to cajole and convince him to stay the course.
Gregory’s portrayal is informed by a collection of Barrymore’s personal effects that was donated to CU-Boulder by Colorado-born theater writer and Barrymore biographer Gene Fowler. Fowler’s collection will be on display during the festival.
"The Barrymore artifacts are a treasure trove of detail and insight," Gregory says. "I plan on revisiting them several times during the run."
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival runs June 7 through August 10, with “The Tempest,” “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” “Henry IV Part 1,” “Henry IV Part 2” and “I Hate Hamlet” running in repertory in the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre and the indoor University Theatre. Tickets may be purchase by phone by calling the box office at 303-492-8008, in-person at the University Club on the CU-Boulder campus from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, or online at http://www.coloradoshakes.org/tickets.
Bob Bows has been writing reviews and features about theater for 18 years for various venues including Variety, The Denver Post, KUVO-FM and Rocky Mountain PBS.