Never was there a better time for a good romp of a theatrical production. Bless you, Folger Shakespeare Library, for giving us just what we needed when we needed it. The Merry Wives of Windsor, with its generous doses of belly laughs (make that BELLY), 70s nostalgia and over-the-top accents, is a witty battle of sexes that serves up the perfect antidote to ‘the news.’ Make sure to get your tickets before they sell out. The show runs through March 1.
Close your eyes and think back to the 1970s. Think Partridge Family, Monty Python, Mary Tyler Moore and All in the Family. Think wide collars, go go boots and the ERA. Now sit back, enjoy some cool Barry White, and be entertained by the knock out cast as they explore issues of love, lust, ego, marriage and jealousy. Director Aaron Posner has done it again — made Shakespeare relevant to the here and now by mining cultural anxieties and the humorous endeavors in the name of love.
Women have the power in this play, and Shakespeare’s admiration for the fairer sex shines through. Together, the merry wives, Regina Aquino as Mrs. Page and Ami Brabson as Mrs. Ford, wield their power judiciously and provide not only a lesson for conniving, if cuddly, Falstaff, but also for their husbands. The lothario Falstaff, played by the large-than-life and boisterous Brian Mani, hatches a passionate, yet ill-conceived plan to take the two wives’ money and make their husbands jealous. The wives, teaming up together as only women friends can, take the challenge and Falstaff is ultimately the victim of a fun-filled war of retaliation, with plenty of life lessons to married couples along the way.
Falstaff is nothing if not self assured and eternally hopeful. His chutzpah is admirable and thanks to Mani, rarely has bad behavior been so fun. The rest of the cast provide equally engaging and mirthful performances. Eric Hissolm, a frequent figure on the Folger stage, does not disappoint as Mr. Ford, and does Mick Jagger proud as he disguises himself to — unnecessarily — check up on his wife.
Central to the comedy of errors is Kate Eastwood Norris as Mistress Quickly, whose midwestern accent and matronly yet girlish demeanor charm both the ensemble and the audience. It’s hard to look away from Dr. Caius, performed by Cody Nickell, as a well-heeled French romantic. Nickell’s stage presence and exaggerated yet adorable accent contribute significantly to the many belly laughs in the audience.
The Merry Wives of Windsor will be the last at-home production before Folger renovations begin. We can look forward to the theatre reopening in 2020 after a $69 million dollar renovation.