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K. T. Vogt’s comedic romp as Falstaff

K. T. Vogt says she’s having the time of her career playing the womanizing Sir John Falstaff in this season’s production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”

Known for her comedic supporting roles in nine seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Vogt is enjoying her pivotal role in what has been called the “most purely farcical of all of Shakespeare’s plays.”

Playing off the other actors in “big scenes is a little like being in a play group,” she says.

The stage, she adds, “is really a playground with responsibility.”

And while she admits her current role is challenging, Vogt is quick to add that she is enjoying traveling “the great arc of the character.”

Falstaff is boisterous, lively, cowardly, funny and mischievous, and one of the bard’s most beloved characters. He appears in three of Shakespeare’s plays and is mentioned in two others.

Vogt calls this season at OSF “the all-Falstaff season,” with Falstaff strutting his stuff in “Merry Wives” as well as “Henry IV, Part One" and “Henry IV, Part Two.”

As she rehearsed for “Merry Wives,” which opened earlier this month in the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre, Vogt’s focus is on Falstaff, the blowhard in over his head, rather than the roguish mentor who leads drinking buddy young Prince Hal astray in the “Henry” plays.

In “Merry Wives,” Falstaff conspires to seduce Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, wives of two prominent citizens in the village of Windsor.

The women play along with him in order to expose him as a preposterous lecher. Then to complicate matters, the insanely jealous Mr. Ford disguises himself as Mr. Brook and hires Falstaff to procure Mistress Ford for him in order to (so he plans) reveal her suspected infidelity. But Mistress Ford and Mistress Page dupe both Falstaff and Mr. Ford. On one occasion, Falstaff is tricked into hiding in a basket of dirty clothes, then dropped into the river. On another occasion, he must disguise himself as a fat old woman, a witch much hated by Mr. Ford, who summarily pummels her.

Both husbands finally join their merry wives in an elaborate charade, the high point of which is the humiliation of Falstaff, who has this time disguised himself as the ghostly Herne the Hunter, complete with a massive set of horns on his head.

Vogt describes her portrayal of Falstaff as “a little bit of Jack Black,” her own father’s larger-than-life persona and “a big dangerous toddler.”

That she is a woman portraying a man who is equal parts “adorable and horrible” may appear brave to some, but it’s all in a day’s work for the actor who says she’s drawn to a role, “not necessarily the age or gender” of a character.

She purposely uses the initials K. T. as her stage name so she can audition and be cast in men’s roles. It opens doors that may not be open to “Katherine,” she says.

She contends that the right actress can perform any of the great classic roles traditionally denied to women and make it her own. In fact, veteran comedic television actress Pat Carroll’s ground-breaking portrayal of Falstaff in the 1990 production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” at the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger was Vogt’s inspiration. Carroll’s “balding knight with whiskers” was considered a triumph.

Vogt hopes that her performance, like Carroll’s, gives audiences “a glimmer” of Falstaff as a human being.

As the winner of the 2015 Falstaff Award for her performance as Launce in OSF’s 2014 all-female production of “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” Vogt was seemingly destined for this season’s casting.

She says she was approached by both "Merry Wives" director, Dawn Monique Williams, and OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch for the role as Falstaff, which she calls “a wonderful blessing.”

Williams, who directed Vogt in “Two Gentlemen,” calls her comic timing “spot on.”

“Hilarious and loved by audiences,” Williams adds of Vogt, saying her “comic chops” are perfect to bite into “Merry Wives” — “a broad, raucous romantic farce that is bawdy and wild.”

“(Falstaff) is horrible, but charming,” Vogt says. “It’s a weird human condition that such a character can be both repelling and attractive.”

And yet there is “karmic justice,” she adds, for the “foxy guy with white-class privilege.”

“Here he is, he’s got the world on a string, and the string breaks.”

As she developed Falstaff’s voice, Vogt says she heard her father’s voice. A lawyer with a three-octave operatic voice range who loved to recite Shakespeare, he could “pump it out of the woods,” she says.

In addition to exploring the character, Vogt is learning 12 songs that Williams the director and Paul James Prendergast the composer and sound designer incorporated to underscore and refresh the more than 500-year-old play.

She believes the music is perfectly paired with Shakespeare’s lyrical prose.

“The music fleshes out the characters, fleshes out the scenes and makes the storytelling clearer.”

In addition to her romp in “Merry Wives,” Vogt is cast as Nurse and in the ensemble of “Shakespeare in Love,” currently playing in the Angus Bowmer Theatre.

Besides “Two Gentlemen,” her notable past OSF performances included roles in “The Yeomen of the Guard,” “Richard II,” “The Cocoanuts,” “Animal Crackers” and “The Imaginary Invalid.”

She’s also worked in television and film.

“Embodying a character” like Falstaff, Vogt says, “is fun and delightful.”

“I think the audience is going to dig it.”

— Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.

K. T. Vogt (center) plays Falstaff in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor.' Pictured with her are Erica Sullivan as Mistress Ford, left, and Vilma Silva as Mistress Page. [OSF photo by Jenny Graham]
K. T. Vogt says she's drawn to a role, “not necessarily the age or gender” of a character. [OSF photo]