Shakespeare’s magic weaves itself throughout most of the Bards works, but the First Folio’s version of the Merry Wives of Windsor adds its own magic as it performs this comedy outdoors, under the stars. This is Shakespeare as it might have been in merry old England. Merry Wives is Shakespeare’s most middle class play in setting, subject matter and outlook. It is also one of his most farcical works which never takes itself too seriously.
Director Nick Sandys has balanced this production with the right amount of physical gags and jokes to establish a tone that leads up to the spirit of reconciliation as all the parts of the tale play out. He has built the story and the characters without over stuffing them and keeps everything fun and under control.
The fun begins as we see all of the folks of Windsor lined up and waving to Queen Elizabeth’s court as it passes by. Included in the mix are a collection of misfits and Royal pensioner Sir John Falstaff (Brian McCarthy-rotund and energetic), who is without funds and seeking the means to live the high life. He decides to seduce not one, but, two of the local merchants’ wives, Mrs. Ford (Lydia Berger Gray) and Mrs. Page (Patrice Egleston) in order to acquire their husbands money. He asks his servants – Pistol(Mark Hespen) and Nym(Alex Stein) – to deliver identical love letters to the wives. When they refuse, Falstaff sacks them, and, in revenge, the men tell Master Ford (a possessive Joe Foust) and Master Page(Victor Holstein) of Falstaff’s intentions. Page is not concerned, but the jealous Ford persuades the Host of the Garter(Steve Peebles) to introduce him to Falstaff as a ‘Master Brook’ so that he can find out Falstaff’s plans. Foust gives us a command performance as the overly jealous Ford who stops at nothing to keep Falstaff from his wife.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Page’s eligible heiress daughter, Anne (Meg Warner) is beset with three suitors; the hopeless young landowner Slender(a very funny Michael Mulhearn), the French court doctor Caius( a superbly bungling Christian Gray), and the dashing but unscrupulous young aristocrat Fenton(Fred Greyer)-all of whom have put their trust in the gossiping go-between, Mistress Quickly (feisty Caroline Knightly).
When the women receive the letters, each goes to tell the other, and they quickly find that the letters are almost identical. The “merry wives” are not interested in the aging, overweight Falstaff as a suitor; however, for the sake of their own amusement and to gain revenge for his indecent assumptions towards them both, they pretend to respond to his advances. As is often the case in a Shakespeare farce, the women have the edge and play the men like puppets. The Merry Wives is no exception and Ms. Gray & Ms. Egleston are a formidable pair who play off each other as they hatch their plan. This sets the stage for for the tables to be turned on Falstaff and in the end all of the threads of the story become known, some with twists, some without, but we know that the bigger you are the harder you fall!
This is a fun production that will keep you laughing and wondering what can happen next. Director Sandys has done an excellent job in maintaining the spirit of the the playwright and could the setting be more marvelous? Bring your chairs, bring your pic-nic basket, bring your wine, sit back and enjoy 2-1/2 hours in Windsor!
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR runs through August 10, 2014. All performances take place at the Mayslake Peabody Estate, located at 1717 W 31st St., off Rt. 83, in Oak Brook. First Folio is easy to get to from via the East-West Tollway (I-88) or the Steven-son Expressway (I-55). Free parking is available on the grounds. Regular priced tickets are $30 Wednesdays and Thursdays (seniors and students are $26), and $37 on Fri-days through Sundays (seniors and students are $32). All performances are at 8:15 p.m. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 630.986.8067 or online at www.firstfolio.org.
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