NKU YES Fest: “Falstaff and the Endless Machine”

...the play is thought provoking, often funny, sometimes sad and at the end quite frightening.  Definitely it is engrossing.

Review by Sherri Ogden Wellington

William Shakespeare’s famous character, John Falstaff (who was in three of his plays and was eulogized in another)  is once again resurrected. Falstaff in Shakespeare’s plays,  is an elderly braggart who is a roguish, heavy-set, cowardly character who is also intelligent, perhaps even insightful. However, in this YES Fest play we meet a young Falstaff, not yet the man of legend. 

Falstaff and the Endless Machine, is a thoroughly entertaining 105 minutes where you go from the future (at least I think it is) to 1400 England. Written by Jared Michael Delaney and directed by Daryl Harris, it runs until April 16, along side other original works “New Year’s Eve at the Stop-n-Go” by Samantha Oty, “Keeper of the Realm” by D. Lynne Myers, and the staged readings “Pig Farm” by Richard Klein and “Persona” by Sage Daman.

You are entertained even before Falstaff officially begins. Two women are playing the Shell Game and guests are drinking and arm wrestling.  The set is as one would think the Boar Head Tavern in England in the 1400s would look like: it has lots of ale barrels, lanterns, simple chairs and tables. A small bar area and steps leading up for the keeper of the Machine to come down and then back up again. Scenic designer is Tao Wang who has an extremely impressive resume.  

We are greeted by our “hostess” who  looks like she is from the future (“Rocky Horror” style) with green and yellow hair puffed upon her head and a sleek gray with black trimmed wrap around.  She interjects thoughts on what we are witnessing on and off throughout the play. Metallic sounds and lighting make the audience aware of her coming and going.  A musician, Evan Lawrence Rogers, plays a guitar and a thumb piano on and off throughout the play, which adds another layer of entertainment.   Sound Designer Kevin Havlin makes the hostess’ voice surreal.  The lighting by Jo Sanburg is brilliant, accentuating moods and keeping us aware of where our attention should be. Costume Designer Krissy Sneshkoff did a magnificent job as well with the makeup and hair. The cast is dressed in authentic looking costumes of the 1400s. The hostess has white face with deep dark black make-up to accentuate her eyes, mouth, and nails to make her seem otherworldly. The make-up for the rest of the cast is barely even noticeable as it should be in the 1400’s.  

John Falstaff, or as they call him, Jack, is well played by Sylas Craven.  He is not the Falstaff that we know from Shakespeare.  He is a lost soul who is looking for honor and respect.  Although he spends much of his time at the tavern drinking, is in love with a prostitute (played by Mae Miler), and joins the Kings Service so that ultimately he can become a knight, he truly wants to do what is right.  When he is faced with having to do what he knows is not morally right, he does it but it causes him a great deal of suffering.  

The Shakespearean personality of Falstaff is Locke in our play.  Locke (Jason Coffenberry) is barely noticed initially.  He is passed out in the back of the tavern while Ash (Chandler Murray), Astor (Hunter Broyles), Jack and Quick (Tiffany Warren) are talking about how Locke tells tales of being a knight in far off lands.  Ash and Astor are the regular tavern patrons who provide comic relief.  Quick runs the tavern (she is the mom of the owner).  They believe that Locke makes up stories but Jack defends him. This is important to remember later in the play.

The antagonists  in our story are the lackey for the Sheriff played by Boot (Austin Fidler) and the Sheriff (Ty Boyd).  They have two soldiers (Ray Garcia and Kristin Kaufman).  Boot is especially sinister and after he is introduced the light-heartedness of the play disappears.   

The hostess reminds us that it is not the grand things in life that change us but the everyday struggles.  She pleads with us to bear witness to our daily travails. Although I am still confused by what the Machine represents, the play is thought provoking, often funny, sometimes sad and at the end quite frightening.  Definitely it is engrossing.

I can’t understand why the theater isn’t packed for every performance of this engaging production.  For nearly two hours of solid entertainment the cost per seat ranges from a mere $5 to $18.  If you are thinking Northern Kentucky University is too far then think again. It is only 35 minutes from West Chester, Ohio!  Parking is free.  What more than could a dedicated theater enthusiast want?

To get tickets for this play as well as to see what other amazing plays are being performed at NKU’s YES Fest go to https://www.nku.edu/academics/sota/theatre/season/yes-festival.html.

Sheri Ogden Wellington BS, M.Ed., veteran, and retired high school teacher, fell in love with the theater when given a flower by an actor during the New York performance of Hair.

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