Dana DeRuyck, left, Dylan Vigus and Kate O'Toole in "The Merry… (Greg Eident )
As regards “The Merry Wives of Windsor" at the Whitmore Theatre, here’s the short and the long of it: this 1930s-slanted Porters of Hellsgate attack on Shakespeare’s evergreen comedy leaves one in perplexity and doubtful dilemma.
This is not to make a Star Chamber matter of it, for director Charles Pasternak finds admirable pleasures in moving his large cast around the multi-level space, including ukelele-accompanied group sings framing each act, and designer Jessica Pasternak supplies swank era costumes.
The titular Mistresses Ford and Page (Dana DeRuyck and Kate O’Toole) recall Bebe Daniels and Joan Blondell. Their respective husbands (Gus Krieger and Sean Faye) echo many a nattering RKO fussbudget. Mistress Quickly (Eliza Kiss) is a sultry pre-Code siren, Shallow (Kit Leonard) and Slender (Timothy Portnoy), Elisha Cook Jr. and Franklin Pangborn, and so forth, with the intent obviously to have a festive time.
Yet honest knaveries give way to unwholesome humidity. Case in point: Dylan Vigus’ jaw-dropping Falstaff, a ferociously fey, explosively high-decibel turn that eventually proves systemically contagious, barring Sasha Pasternak’s knowing Anne and Michael Hoag’s understated Fenton.
And to play “Merry Wives” with so much extraneous business, winking self-delight and thunderous volume is, alas, to jettison the humor of it. My affection for this risk-taking troupe notwithstanding, I cannot tell what the Dickens they were thinking.
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“The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Whitmore Theatre, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 22. $20. (818) 325-2055 or www.portersofhellsgate.com. Running time: 2 hours.