The Merry Wives of Windsor

By William Shakespearechicago shakespeare theater

Directed by Barbara Gaines

At Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Audiences have as much fun as the actors in The merry Wives of Windsor!

After the quite funny 2004 production of The merry Wives of Windsor, director Barbara Gaines has topped that production with the current production set in post WWII England complete with nice doses of swing music and pop tunes of the era.

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With marvelous set (by James Noone), cast of twenty, The Bard’s provincial comedy comes alive at the Courtyard Theater on Navy Pier.  Director Barbara Gaines extracts every once of hilarity from The Wives of Windsor, not considered one of Shakespeare’s best. In the hands of Gaines and an “A” list cast, the middle-class comedy was a hoot!  The 40’s setting’s colorful clothing look fine (costume designer Susan E. Mickey).  These outfits underscored the zany characters residing in Windsor.

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 The Story: The folks in 18th Century Windsor live traditional lives and Masters Page and Ford’ s families are well-to-do as they converge each day. When Sire John Falstaff comes to town seeking financial relief, he decides to seduce both the wealthy Page and Ford wives.  The wives catch on and take matters into their own hands. Also Master Ford falls for the scandal told to him by Pistol and Nym, two of Falstaff’s former men bent on revenge.

 Falstaff isn’t alone in coveting the cash as the Pages’ daughter is pursued by several bachelors—Slender, the innocent nephew of a local justice; Dr. Caius, a Frenchman whose emotions run counter to reason; and, Master Fenton, a young nobleman whose fallen in love with Anne Page. Add Mistress Quickly as a go between for any soul in need of assistance, and Windsor town goes topsy-turvy!

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 This delightful comedy brings us the lovable rogue—Sir John Falstaff—played hilariously by Scott Jaeck together with many terrific veteran Chicago actors such as Don Forston (Sir Hugh Evans), James Harms (Justice Shallow), Kevin Gudahl (Master Page), Ross Lehman (Master Ford), Greg Vinkler (Dr. Caius), William Dick (Host of the Garter Inn). In several funny scenes, we witness these splendid Thespians running about like the Keystone Cops in a silent movie! Steven Sutcliffe’s Slender was a particularly funny character marvelously played.

The women, lead by the wacky Angela Ingersoll as Mistress Quickly—a friend to anyone with gold coins, Kelli Fox as Mistress Ford, Heidi Kettenring as Mistress Page together with Tiffany Yvone Cox as Anne Page—the women rule the action as Shakespeare has the females victorious in the battle of the sexes. From humiliating Falstaff to fooling their husbands, the gals have a handle on more than domestic chores. The men may be funnier, but the women control the families. The Bard mirrors rural domestic life.

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 The spectacle produced here is a sensory treat with nice scene intoductions featuring cast members sings 9and dancing) to 40’s swing pop tunes. Add many sight gags, much wordplay sprinkled with silly slapstick chases and drunken blokes about. Ross Lehman as the jealous Master Ford produced masterful funny bits while Greg Vinkler’s French doctor was a hoot and Angela Ingersoll’s Mistress Quickly garnered laughs. But The Merry Wives of Windsor centers on the larger-than-life comedy of the outrageous Falstaff—played with gusto in a  large-bodied persona  by the outstanding Scott Jaeck.His scenes with Ross Lehman (another Chicago Icon) produced or set-up much of the comic situations.

 Matt Mueller’s empathetic Fenton and Tiffany Yvonne Cox’s Anne Page demonstrated how  true love can  prevails as the patrons of Windsor eventually resolve their jealous rages. The journey from scandal to forgiveness is two plus hours of silly actions that engages us. I laughed plenty as I marveled at the brilliant work of this ensemble. The action is furious and non-stop; the antics are manic and playful. Don’t miss this show.

 Highly Recommended

 Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: December 11, 2013

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout The Merry Wives of Windsor page at theatreinchicago.com

At Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, Chicago, IL.running time is 2 hours. 40 minutes with intermission. through January 19, 2014

 

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