Marry, it doth swirl with delight. Whereas two married ladies would seem to be at the center of the jolly fulcrum, Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor on The Green has that whole town jumping with fun. Credit director John Hardy and his inventive cast in an ensemble performance full of style and color.
This take makes Windsor a small southern bayou town, which y’all might call a good choice. The locals know each other real well and they gaggle and gossip to beat the band. But when a pushy rube arrives from outside the borders they ain’t gonna cotton to him. He calls himself Sir John Falstaff, but nobility sure isn’t his main trait.
Falstaff is usually seen as the raison d’être for this play and he remains the largest element of the story since what happens to him and around him is the focus. However, of nearly equivalent attention, three men contend to marry Mistress Page, if her father consents. Trying to shake each other up and claim the sweet young prize are frenchified Doctor Caius, Abraham Slender and young Master Fenton. Complicating that competition, Parson Evans offers to assist Slender’s cause. Whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on.
Falstaff gets the ball rolling by trying to woo away Mistress Page and Mistress Ford from their husbands. The women unite to make merry with the outsider. Meanwhile, disguised Mr. Ford hopes to catch his wife in something compromising, enlisting Falstaff as the means to that end.
And off they go.
Hardy fills this romp with plenty of funny actions, reactions and interactions in which his actors revel. The characters pop on and pop off, scurry, stride, hide, tumble, mix and mingle in a non-stop delightful swirl. At the same time, he’s made sure that his cast gets the most and best out of the words, trippingly on the tongue, never in too much of a rush. A perfect match for the well-tuned southern drawl. Moreover, with this choice of locale, Doctor Caius, certainement, belongs.
In that persona, Vincent Carlson-Brown makes the best of the goofy accent, brightening up the stage whenever he strides in. Russell Daniels’ version of fat Jack works well as a life-sized fool, rather than an inflated parade balloon, a real person who has no idea how silly he behaves and looks. As Mr. Ford and his disguise Mr. Brook Joe Lullo shines with panache. And Eric Weiman’s Fenton comes across with youthful, sincere charm.
As in the ongoing production of King Lear women have been miscast in some male roles. That doesn’t always work, given that the women still sound and move like women instead of trying to look and act like men. In this instance, Dr. Caius’ duel challenge to clearly female Parson Evans looks out of place.
A wide range of music by Eric Elworth and Molly Welsh inventively punctuates the action with traces of Cajun, zydeco and folk. That adds to the color as do Lindsay Pape’s costumes.
This lively charmer rolls along merrily, forsooth.
The Merry Wives of Windsor plays Fri. & Sun July 7,9 Young Park, 411-1/2 N Elmwood Rd.8 p.m. Free. www.nebraskashakespeare.com