Outdoors on the Elizabethan
stage at the Utah Shakespearean Festival, Cedar City, Shakespeare's
"The Merry Wives of Windsor" is a madcap adventure that's
fun for all. The Adams Shakespearean Theater is the closest replica
of Shakespeare's Globe in the United States, and this production,
as is customary in Utah, is very traditional with beautiful period
costumes and sets.
This is a story of love, deception, lust, and intrigue. A marriage is being arranged for Anne Page. The problem is, to whom. Her father wants her to marry the dim witted Slender through his cousin Shallow and the Welsh parson, while her mother is arranging a marriage to the ludicrous French Dr. Caius. She and the young gentleman Fenton love each other, but "he kept company with the wild Prince [Hal] and Poins. He knows too much."
Falstaff, meanwhile has sent identical love letters to both mistresses Ford and Page. They compare them and decide to get even. Thrown into the bargain, Mistress Ford also gets dome digs in at her jealous husband. Her husband has been informed that his wife is having an affair with Falstaff, and he goes to Plump Jack as Brook to get him to win Mistress Ford for him. Sir John tells him everything.
Dennis Robertson's Falstaff
is lusty, arrogant, and swaggering. He struts around
like a 300 pound peacock who has no concept of his own foolishness.
When he goes to Mistress Ford, he paws her and she pushes him gently
away. Mistress Page comes in and frantically announces that Ford is
on his way. This outrageous scene is totally over played and they get
the fat knight into the laundry basket to be dumped into the Thames.
Ford is also undone since he can't produce the man who is supposedly
with his wife.
Falstaff comes stumbling back into the tavern. He tells us that "I'll have my brains taken out and buttered, and given to a dog for a New Year's gift" before he'll do that again. Mistress Quickly tells him that Mistress Ford wants to meet with him again this morning when her husband goes birding.
Brook (Ford) comes and Falstaff tells him all that has happened, how he escaped, and that he will meet her again today. Mark Murphey is one of my very favorite actors, and his Ford/Brook is absolutely stupendous. Plump Jack gives him the details and his reflexive snarl abruptly turns to a conspiratorial grin. When he goes to search his house, he triumphantly walks over to the laundry and starts to pull his and Mistress Ford's dirty clothes out one by one, throwing them to his friends who are shocked. He finally climbs in to the basket himself and announces there's nobody there. Mistress Page has taken Sir John upstairs and dressed him in a woman's clothes who Ford hates, and regards as a witch. When she comes down he forgets Falstaff and beats the Brainford Witch as he chases her out of his house. When Parson Hugh mentions her bushy white beard, Ford realizes what his happened.
When the wives show the letters to the husbands, Ford apologizes, and they all get ready for the finale. In addition to the trick on Falstaff, Page conspires with Slender to spirit Anne away to marry her. Mistress Page does the same with Dr. Caius. Anne meanwhile, makes her own plans to steal away and marry Fenton. Libby George's Mistress Quickly dashes back and forth with messages to and from everyone. She helps everybody, and puts in a good word for everyone. She tells Falstaff how both wives will meet him that night.
The balcony is decked out in tree branches for the park. Falstaff shows up as a fourteen point buck, telling the women to "divide me like a quartered buck." The childrens ensemble disguised as fairies pinch and burn the terrified knight. Fredi Olster is the unflappable Mistress Ford as she strokes his antler and tells him, "You will never be my man, but you'll always be my deer." Fenton gets Anne, and all ends happily, even for Plump Jack.
Anytime you can see Corliss Preston perform, do it! She's absolutely outrageous but utterly believable. She's a relentless Mistress Page. She schemes against her husband's plans to marry their daughter off. There's no doubt she'll win that one, or at least, won't lose to him. She's frantic, overbearing, and totally melodramatic as she warns Mistress Ford of her approaching husband both times. She plots Plump Jack's downfall, and is only outdone by Mary Dolson's daughter Anne who has learned well from her mother.
A Bryan Humphrey's Dr. Caius is outrageous. He throws his rapier around everywhere, and the only thing he carves up more than himself is the English language. When he and Sir Hugh get in to a duel, Innkeeper Anthony De Fonte says "Disarm them and keep their arms whole. Let them argue and hack our English."
I was very curious to see
Dennis Robertson play Falstaff. He played it with flair. They stuff
him with a couple pillows, and he struts and swaggers. He's overcome
by his dunking and beating, but he always comes back up for more.
This is a Falstaff who's utterly unaware of his own incompetence.
Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" is entertainment for entertainment's sake. Each gets as they give and true love wins in the end. This thoroughly engrossing comedy continues outdoors at The Adams Shakespearean Theater at The Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City through August 31.