'Merry Wives' mans up


POSTED: Friday, August 14, 2009

In the eight years since Tony Pisculli co-founded the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival, he has become known in some circles as the guy who specializes in directing all-female productions.

That all changed this summer when Harry Wong III opened a three-play series with an all-female production on “;Richard II.”; Pisculli will close it with an all-male version of “;The Merry Wives of Windsor.”;

Not to put words in Pisculli's mouth, but blame it on the Bard.

“;Shakespeare wrote great parts for women, but he didn't write that many,”; Pisculli explained, saying that until this year his casting decisions were never made with the intent of doing single-gender shows.

“;It's been about making the best use of the available talent pool. If so many people come out (for auditions) and half the auditioners are women, if we do an all-female play every other year, it means that we can get a lot more talented women on stage (and) it means that we can distribute our men better into excellent parts for them. That's what that's been about to this point.”;

However, Pisculli continued, he's “;gotten some flak for it”; from men who have wanted to the play the best male roles in some of his all-female productions.

“;I had a direct challenge from Alvin Chan, who saw some roles he wanted to play before he moved to New York go to all-female casts. He said I should do an all-male play sometime, so all right, I'll do it.”;

And so, Jeremy Dowd stars as Sir John Falstaff opposite Shawn Thomsen (Mistress Ford) and Chris Riel (Mistress Page) when “;Merry Wives”; opens tonight.

Falstaff, short of money and looking for a good time, decides to woo two wealthy married woman. Alas for the would-be playa, his plans are revealed to the women's husbands. The “;merry wives”; also figure out what's going on and decide to lure him into a series of embarrassing comical situations.

Pisculli said working with an all-male cast gives the show a “;different character”; than a standard “;mixed cast”; or an all-female cast.

“;I wanted to do this play as all male because I thought it would be funnier. I thought the comedy would read more—and of course in Shakespeare's day (the casts) were all male, also.

“;We'll see how it plays in front of an audience, but this has been the funniest rehearsal process I've experienced in the Hawaii Shake- speare Festival—or probably in any play I've ever directed.

“;Our 'merry wives,' Shawn Thomson and Chris Reil, are improvisers that have been improvising together for a long time. They have such amazing chemistry, and in lot of rehearsals we're just rolling (with laughter). It's a very strong cast all the way around, but these guys are just really the core of it,”; said Pisculli.

“;Merry Wives”; is one of Pisculli's favorites for another reason. It was his “;introduction to Shakespeare as performance.”;





        » Where: The ARTS @ Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.

» When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 3:30 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 23


» Cost: $10 to $20


» Info: (800) 838-3006 or www.hawaiishakes.org




Pisculli had gone through the standard American experience of reading Shakespeare in high school and college, but the UH-Manoa theater program was his introduction to stage performance. He took an introductory acting class and decided to audition for Terence Knapp's UH-Manoa production of “;Merry Wives”; as “;practice”; so that he would be more confident when he auditioned for another show that he wanted to do.

So much for that plan!

Knapp cast him as Abraham Slender, one of the three suitors for the hand of young Mistress Page, the daughter of one of the titular wives.

As things turned out, Pisculli was also cast in the play he had wanted to do. However, when a scheduling conflict came up, Knapp “;asserted his priority”; over the student who was directing the other show, and Pisculli stayed in “;Wives.”;

Looking back, Pisculli has no regrets. Doing the show changed his life.

“;I just loved it,”; he said. “;I have never appreciated Shakespeare in that way, and there's something about being in a Shakespeare performance that really makes you (appreciate it). It gets into your blood, it gets under your skin.

“;I have been loving Shakespeare ever since, and it's really nice to be able to come back and do this play again.”;

Returning to “;Wives”; as a director, Pisculli put his own stamp on the HSF production in ways that promise to make the show worth seeing twice.

First, there are some “;very rapid quick costume changes”; that allow actors to play two characters in the same scene. Bigger and bolder is double-casting that makes the show a dueling actors competition—on one night Reb Beau Allen will play the Host of the Garter Inn and Fenton while Troy Apostle plays Abraham Slender, and on the next night they'll switch.

“;They're both such great actors, and they could play either of these combination of parts very well,”; Pisculli said. “;It was much easier to slot everyone else into the right places ... and they're so good, and it would be a real fine challenge for them to do both.

“;They really bring completely different characters out, and they'll watch each other and they try to out do each other. It's a blast. I think someday I'd like to try a play where the whole cast is doubled and we switch the whole cast every night.”;