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The Merry Wives of Windsor

a Comedy
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : Act 3 Productions [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Act 3 Playhouse [WEBSITE]
ID# 5277

SHOWING : May 18, 2018 - May 27, 2018



Sir John Falstaff is up to his usual tricks, attempting to swindle Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, intending to gain access to their husbands’ wealth. Mistress Page and Mistress Ford decide to teach him a lesson. Meanwhile, Anne Page, who loves Fenton, must submit to the clumsy wooing of Slender, whom her father supports, and of Caius, whom her mother encourages. As Falstaff continues to try to woo the canny women of Windsor, hilarity ensues. Set in the 1950’s, this production gives a nod to iconic sitcoms of the time.

Director Alyssa Jackson
Shallow R. Chandler Bragg
Slender Chris Davis
Fenton Josh Howe
The Host of the Garter Inn Jessie Kuipers
Nym Jonathan McCullum
Mistress Ford Madelayne Shammas
Ford Jeffrey Sneed
Doctor Caius Calvin Wickham
Sir Hugh Evans Freddy Lynn Wilson
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Cozening Wives
by playgoer
Monday, May 21, 2018
When you think of Shakespeare and Falstaff and "The Merry Wives of Windsor," do you think of 1950’s television? If you’re director Alyssa Jackson, you do. The plot has been described as the first sit-com, and Ms. Jackson places the action in a set designed by Brian Clements that is 2/3 1950’s turquoise kitchen and 1/3 tavern, with "On the Air" illuminated signs over each portion. Costumes designed by Nikki Thomas echo the 1950’s time period, and Paige Crawford’s delightful sound design fills scene changes with TV theme songs from the period.

Ms. Jackson has directed Mistress Page (Hannah Morris) and Mistress Ford (Madelayne Shammas) to have a Lucy-Ethel sort of vibe as they plot to give Falstaff (Neil Ramsay) his comeuppance for presuming to attempt affairs with these two married women. There’s only so far the 1950’s connection can take us, though; Shakespeare’s language is tied to his own Elizabethan times, and much of the wordplay can be lost on a 21st century audience, especially when first act exposition is spoken in the thick Welch accent of Sir Hugh Evans (Freddy Lynn Wilson) or the thick French accent of Doctor Caius (Calvin Wickham). The accents are good, but much of the initial plot can remain murky to a modern audience on first hearing, and the Act3 program fails to include a synopsis.

Ms. Jackson has directed her actors to speak fluidly and quickly, which keeps the long show moving along, but her blocking sometimes devolves into a line of actors when the stage is fully populated. There are plenty of comic bits, though, most of which land. Mary Sorrel’s props add to the fun onstage, and Ben Sterling’s lighting design keeps everything visible, with a bit of flair for the final woodland scene.

One huge distraction, however, is the squeakiness of the stage floor. There are several heavily-traveled locations where smallish platforms meet and a squeak is heard every time someone steps there or shifts weight when standing there. Distracting squeaks, thick accents, and Elizabethan language combine to obscure clarity of the plot, but as the action becomes more physical, things become clearer and funnier. I overheard one audience member say that she enjoyed (and understood) the second act far better than the first. Even so, one confusing spot in the second act occurs when we are told that the much-admired Anne Page (Hannah Hyde) has been described as wearing white to one suitor and as wearing green to another suitor. Uniformly white tops and skirts of various colors confuse the issue of who the false Anne Pages are, with non-unique mask colors apparently indicating the white and green mentioned in the script.

Performances vary only slightly in quality. Jessie Kuipers uses her tremendous stage presence to advantage as Host of the Garter Inn, Chris Davis delights as the shy, oafish Slender, and Caitlyn Raye Keller makes the meddling Mistress Quickly an entertaining, impish presence, but all the minor characters are filled ably. Ms. Shammas and especially Ms. Morris drive the show along with their machinations as the two main females, and Jeffrey Allen Sneed inhabits the role of Ford with both deep emotion and deep comic sense. Even his emptying of a laundry basket is done with amazing skill.

The only major performance that is a bit of a disappointment is that of Neil Ramsay as Falstaff. His blustering, English-accented voice has a lot of power, but he doesn’t invest the character with either the menace of a mob boss (which would have fit in with the 1950’s theme) or the braggadocio of a self-important buffoon. He seems to be the only actor who hasn’t received the note that "The Merry Wives of Windsor" is a rollicking comedy in which characters either have to take themselves too seriously or not seriously at all.

Overall, "The Merry Wives of Windsor" entertains as a visual comedy, with performances nicely honed by director Alyssa Jackson to give each character an individual stamp. There’s a lot to like in this production, but deficiencies like a squeaking stage and hideous wigs for Rugby/Robin (Alli Noto) combine with occasional impenetrability of language to lessen its positive impact. Even so, confident performances from most of the cast give the production the air of a smash hit. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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