By: Jason Vogel
Going to a show with no expectations is sometimes the best recipe for entertainment. The Merry Wives of Windsor was played at the Stratford Festival on August 2ndand it turned out to be one of those experiences for me.
The show meanders to a start with no special announcement, horns blowing, or lighting effects. Just a couple of guys raking leaves on what might be a very typical fall afternoon. I did make some time before the show to read through the playbill to determine that this production of Merry Wives takes place in the 1950’s. What an interesting twist, I thought. The costumes and stage reflect the 1950’s to a “T”, and the little kids on stage even play games like jump-rope and run around with cap guns straight out of the 50’s.
The play took us back sixty some years and then back about another three hundred and fifty years to Shakespeare’s time. The intermixing of the two eras was a great idea for such a comedy. The comedy, in its original form, is almost whimsical, but the production in Stratford this year makes the play quite zany. As Falstaff chases Mrs. Ford around the room with a rose clenched in his teeth, my mind goes to the lighthearted television comedies of the 1950’s. Think of Ernie Kovaks or I Love Lucy and slapstick humor. As the play went from scene to scene, I felt as if Groucho Marx would appear doing a duck walk across the stage with his big cigar hanging out of his mouth. As Mr. Ford, disguised as Master Brook, conspires with Falstaff, he is driven into a frenzy that makes him step into Falstaff’s bedpan, gets his foot lodged in it, and then marches around stage with an overdone look of disgust on his face. Speaking of overdone, Slender and Simple take it to extremes. Simple is portrayed as quite the dunderhead as he stumbles around trying to follow orders, while Slender cannot make a move without Shallow’s direction.
The expressions and mannerisms, although exaggerated, bring all of Shakespeare’s characters to life creating a cheerful atmosphere in the theatre. The Stratford Festival provides a mix of productions that can bring tears as well as laughter. Go ye, travel to Stratford and have yourself a darn-tootin’ good time.