Are the Merry Wives the Real Housewives?
The Merry Wives of Windsor, currently on stage at Stratford’s Festival Theatre, takes us back to the good old days of the 1950s when kids played outdoors all day, Mom was always at home being a good wife, and Dad was the sensible bread winner. You know, the days that red-hat-wearing-MAGA folks long for, back when things were great.
Except, Stratford Festival is taking a little poke at the notion of those good old days.
First, with their colour-blind casting: Stratford is well known for not considering skin colour when casting their plays, so with this satiric salute to the suburbs of the 50s, they, naturally, haven’t allowed it to be all white.
On stage, the wonderful gingerbread-style house in the suburbs with its fine-trimmed lawn represents all that is good about the 1950s. In fact, this family must be upper-middle-class because they can afford to hire a couple of guys to clean up the colourful fall leaves that are scattered about on the lawn. As patrons take their seats in the theatre, the labourers are busy raking.
An assortment of little girls jump rope in their pleated skirts and saddle shoes, while the little boys run around teasing them. And then, there are the housewives – with their trim little waists and crinoline-lined skirts, carrying a matching purse in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
The eye-catching satiric set and costumes set the tone for the fun and games that are to come. These housewives are really the Merry Wives and they are ready for shenanigans in this Shakespearean comedy.
Fat Falstaff is short of money, so he devises a plan to seduce the wives of Windsor’s merchants and use the tryst to bribe them. Obviously, he thinks he’s irresistible and he sends the same note to Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page. But they compare notes, astounded by his nerve, and decide to have a little fun with his repulsive attempt at seduction. As well, Falstaff’s entourage interferes and sets up Mr. Ford, letting him think his wife is being unfaithful.
In a subplot, the Pages’ daughter, Anne, is in love with Fenton. But her Dad thinks she should marry Mr. Slender while her Mom wants her to marry Dr. Caius. There is much ado as the three suitors jockey for position in Anne’s heart.
Geraint Wyn Davies’ Falstaff is well-padded and well-acted. The humour comes from his total lack of awareness as to what a distasteful boor he is. In fact, he believes he is very charming, and expects women to adore him. Wyn Davies plays up all the characteristics of Falstaff perfectly, blissfully unaware of the women plotting against his advances.
The two merry wives, Sophie Walker as Mrs. Ford, and Brigit Wilson as Mrs. Page, add to the humour with their scheming. Both make impeccable 50s housewives in all their perfection.
Gordon S. Miller is uproarious as Dr. Caius, a Frenchman with a penchant for fencing. His accent is reminiscent of Inspector Clouseau in the old Pink Panther movies. Miller exaggerates the accent, the physical comedy and his fencing garb to great hilarity. The only concern is the difficulty in understanding his over-the-top accent.
Graham Abbey as Mr. Ford is the ludicrous husband, convinced he’s a cuckold. Abbey adds to the humour when he disguises himself with a fake mustache to obtain information from Falstaff.
An interesting character that we don’t get enough of is the Hostess of the Garter, played by Sarah Dodd. She swaggers about dressed in a fancy cowboy shirt, and in some ways reminds me of the famous autistic veterinarian, Temple Grandin.
Falstaff’s sidekicks deserve special mention: Randy Hughson as Pistol and Farhang Ghajar as Nym are reminiscent of Lenny and Squiggy in the old TV show Laverne and Shirley. Their presentation of Shakespearean language with a Milwaukee accent is hysterically funny.
The Stratford Festival has done well to assemble an entire cast of Shakespearean actors who excel at comedy.
This reimagining of The Merry Wives of Windsor would be the perfect show to introduce young people to Shakespeare. Yes, there are a few naughty parts, but I’d still take the kids. The double entendres will fly right over the younger ones’ heads, and if they are old enough to get the joke, they will think Shakespeare is the best thing ever!
The Merry Wives of Windsor continues in repertory until October 26 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Left: Randy Hughson as Pistol, Geraint Wyn Davies as Falstaff and Farhang Ghajar as Nym. Right: Brigit Wilson as Mrs. Page and Sophia Walker as Mrs. Ford Photos by David Hou.
The Merry Wives of Windsor 2019
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Performed by Geraint Wyn Davies, Brigit Wilson, Sophia Walker, Gordon S. Miller, Lucy Peacock, Graham Abbey, Michael Blake, Mike Shara, et al.
Festival Theatre, Stratford
June 1 to October 26, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson