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“Merry Wives” Delivers Laughter at CSC

Review by Liz Eichler of “The Merry Wives of Windsor”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

What a treasure we have at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company! After a long day of work, it’s just a short drive to world class theatre, a place where you can laugh, cry or think, and simply refresh your point of view.

Sylvester Little, Jr, and Jennifer Joplin in “The Merry Wives of Windsor”

And if it’s laughter you want, “Merry Wives of Windsor” delivers.

It is the story of Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, who discover they are both being wooed by the same “gravity-challenged” ridiculous Falstaff, and who decide to plot to make him a laughingstock.  Mistress Page also has a daughter being wooed by three fellows: one she loves, and two ridiculous ones her parents love. This is a comedy. Every comedic device will be used. Some from Shakespeare’s mind, and some modern ones from director Brian Isaac Phillips’ mind, adding yeast to the laughter recipe. There’s word play, physical comedy, mistaken identity, double entendre, disguises, and more, all leading to what we need after a long day of work–laughter. Yes, you will smile, and probably giggle, chortle and guffaw. The actors are all working to ensure you do, as this play has some great characters, and it is the strength of the characters that allows you to overlook the holes in the plot, and hopefully the Elizabethan class distinctions.

When I mentioned Billy Chace is playing Falstaff, my husband begged to join me, as he is a fan of the Cincy Shakes comics. It is Chace’s show, after all: Shakespeare wrote it as a spin-off of “Henry IV,” where we first meet the lascivious and portly rogue. Chace pulls you in.

In this production, “Merry Wives” is set in New York in the 1910’s where suffrage is in your face. (The lobby has many great poster panels of information. Arrive early to read them.) The strong women of the play are using what influence and tactics they can to re-mold their world, ruled by men (despite how comical, foppish, drunk or easily influenced).  Mistress Page (Jennifer Joplin) and Mistress Ford (Abby Lee), the young Anne Page (Kahla Tisdale), and Mistress Quickly (Miranda McGee) all concoct ways to manage their affairs to great success. Joplin and Lee are broad in their performances, but have so much fun together they pull you in. Tisdale gives a strong focused performance, and a new face we’d like to see again. 

Some performers we have laughed with many times, and ALL we’d love to see again, including Mistress Ford’s insecure husband, Frank, played by David Everett Moore, and George Page, played by confident Sylvester Little, Jr.  Anne’s three suitors are played by Crystian Wiltshire, as Abraham Slender; Justin McCombs, physical comedy genius and Fight Director, as the foppish French Doctor Caius, the second suitor; and handsome Kenny Hamilton as the third suitor, Fenton. Geoffrey Warren Barnes II is Sir Hugh, Paul Riopelle is Justice Shallow, Ernaisja Curry is Rugby, and Courtney Lucien as Simple/Robin. Cal Harris is Bardolph and Josh Katawick is Corporal Nim, both also part of the on-set musicians. The special bonus to this presentation is the original music by Cary Davenport (Host) with recordings interspersed throughout the scenes and live also throughout the show.

Scenic Design (Shannon Roberts), Costume Design (Rainy Edwards), Lighting Design (Justen N. Locke), Sound Design (Doug Borntrager), and Choreography (Darnell Pierre Benjamin) make up the environment of the show. The set is two city homes, on turntables, complete with stairs—which challenge Falstaff. Great set decoration! Antlers and horns are seen throughout the dwellings, representing a cuckold, a man whose wife has been unfaithful. The period clothing is soft and detailed, but there is structure to both men’s and women’s clothing, with a nod to military wear for some, including Falstaff.  There are imaginative accessories, especially in the final dancing scene.

Make someone merry and bring him or her to “Merry Wives of Windsor.” Laughs guaranteed.

Contact the CSC Box office at 513-381-2273 or  www.cincyshakes.com.