Written by Daniella Litvak
Sir John Falstaff has always been one of the Bard’s most beloved characters. Queen Elizabeth was such a fan she allegedly demanded Shakespeare write a play about Falstaff in love. As with much of the information we have about Shakespeare, whether or not Queen Elizabeth actually ordered him to write such a story is debatable. However, such a play does exist, and it’s called The Merry Wives of Windsor (hereinafter referred to as “Merry Wives”).
Falstaff (Steven Teats) is in Windsor and up to his usual, dirty old knight antics. Unsurprisingly, he has money troubles. His solution? Simultaneously seduce Mistress Ford (Ashley Arroliga) and Mistress Page (Rhonda Goldstein) — the wives of two wealthy merchants. Mistress Ford and Mistress Page quickly see through Falstaff’s scheme and turn the tables on him. There’s also a subplot about the many suitors wanting to marry the Pages’ daughter, Anne (Kelli Griffin).
Now something director Aurora J. Culver picked up on is the fact Merry Wives could easily be a sitcom–so instead of being transported to the Elizabethan era, we’re taking a fun trip to the 90s. This is Merry Wives as if performed by the characters of F.R.I.E.N.D.S.
I haven’t watched a lot of F.R.I.E.N.D.S, but even I could tell Mistress Ford, Mistress Page, Mistress Quickly (Kaitlyn Smith), Ford (Chris Hunter), and Page (Josh Hargrave) had the appearance and mannerisms of Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, and Ross respectively. Who the Joey analogue was, I’m not sure. The set design mimics Rachel and Monica’s apartment and Central Perk, known in this show as Royal Perk, and recurring jokes from F.R.I.E.N.D.S. make it into the show.
Merry Wives draws from some other sources as well. The costuming is an ode to the entire gamut of 90s fashion. Admittedly, things like Doctor Caius (Krisington Plotkin) being a spoof of a doctor from E.R. went over my head until I read the director’s note. If you have a chance, I recommend reading the director’s note before the show starts as the insight was appreciated.
I also recommend reading a synopsis of Merry Wives beforehand too. The first act can be hard to follow due to the numerous characters and plot tangents.
The sound issues plaguing the first act exacerbated the issue. The speakers may not have been at the optimal setting because it wasn’t easy to hear many of the actors. Also, since this is a Shakespeare in a park production, it’s outside, and the noise coming from people not seeing the play was distracting. And during the performance I attended, a helicopter circled the park for a good chunk of the act. The cast did a good job of not letting the helicopter throw them off their game.
Fortunately, the speakers were adjusted, and the distractions were gone during the second act. The second act also improved over the first in that it was more tightly plotted.
Despite the sound issues, I wouldn’t trade seeing this is in a park for an indoor theater experience. Who needs streaming? Being outside, picnicking, and watching The Merry Wives of W.I.N.D.S.O.R was chill in every sense of word (yes, I was glad I remembered to bring a jacket) — just don’t forget to bring your chair.