© Brittany Diliberto

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Reviewers Rating

To quote Bob Dylan, “the times they are a-changin’,” and The Bard is out once again to challenge our ability to accept those changes. Using the funky and groovy vibe of 1972 and the societal transformations it all encompassed, the current production of The Merry Wives of Windsor now at the Folger Theater shows just how adaptable Shakespeare’s message can be beyond its original Elizabethan era setting. By taking this much loved comedy, and using its visual and sharp verbal humor which transcends the sense of here and now, this work still holds up in any historical setting, either 1572 or 1972, and continues to offer the modern message that women know how to rule the world and are still able to teach the men around them a few life lessons.

At the heart of this play, the story is about smart women taking control of a situation and empowering themselves. Sir John Falstaff decides that by wooing the married Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, he can steal their fortunes and make their husbands jealous. He isn’t ready for the clever wives he is targeting when they use their own tricks to humiliate him, teaching him some lessons along the way. Meanwhile in her own goal to change the direction of a future fixed by her parents with an arranged marriage, the optimistic yet headstrong Ann Page intends to marry who she wants against both her parents’ wishes.

Director Aaron Posner’s choice to place this story in 1972 allows him to show the very similar comedic and serious situations that continue to be present in our own changing cultural anxieties. Just as in Elizabethan times, with the new role of a woman as a ruler, so too do we see the rise of the role and identity of women in the 70’s landscape of changing political and domestic instructions. It’s hard not to see, hear and feel the comfort of one’s childhood with a set design by Helen Hayes Ward winner, Tony Cisek, that combines a backdrop of our own jaded view of domestic family life found in the famous TV sitcoms of The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. Add the music and color pallet of the era and you get the sense of both the seriousness and comedy of what we accepted as the status quo of perfection.

Along with Posner’s outstanding direction, he has chosen and ensemble of seasoned performers who know their way around a double-edged humorous quip with physical comedic timing. Regina Aquino as Mistress Page and Ami Brabson as Mistress Ford volley back and forth in delicious wickedness as they plot their revenge on Falstaff; Brian Mani in the role of Falstaff shows his bumbling side as the perpetual scapegoat who doesn’t realize the joke is always on him, no matter what society he aligns himself with to get what he wants.

I would be remiss in not pointing out three other outstanding performances from this wonderful ensemble: Cody Nickell as the Dr. Caius is hilariously superb with his over-the-top, high energy, bumbling characterization of a Frenchman who feels he is far superior when it comes to projecting emotions and pursuing affairs of the heart. Kate Eastwood Norris as Mistress Quickly steals the show with her exaggerated accent and actions, keeping the audience laughing along with the absurdities her character has to deal with to keep those around her inline. Ryan Sellers, who was subbing on press night in the role of Ford, was outstanding. He made the performance his own, and it was obvious to those attending that he has an excellent future ahead of him.

A final pleasure to this excellent production with its visual cornucopia of 70’s cheesy colors and the spot-on clashing of loud fashion ensembles are the musical elements that in their own right are just as much a member of the production as the actors and set. Using popular music of the 70’s to give a modern twist to the Bard’s words, and actual original pieces that play on popular music of the time, what might seem out of place actually enhances the comedy in the performance. It’s hard not to sing along before the performance and during intermission to the happy atmosphere alive in all its funky glory.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is an excellent way to eliminate any winter blues you may be experiencing. This current fresh take on a classical favorite offers everyone something if you are looking for a fun way to escape to a world of an uninterrupted two hours of fun and hilarity. Trust me. With the outstanding cast, inspiring stage, music and Shakespeare’s poetic wit and humor, you can’t help but feel groovy.