Review: MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR is Good Shakespearean Fun

By: May. 10, 2018
Review: MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR is Good Shakespearean Fun
(L-R) Babs George, Toby Minor,
and Gwendolyn Kelso
Photo by Errich Petersen

Austin Shakespeare presents THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, now playing at the Zilker Hillside Theatre. First published in 1602, the play serves as, what many consider, William Shakespeare's most farcical piece. Directed by artistic director, Ann Ciccollela and Gwendolyn Kelso, the play centers around the playful, yet mischievous behavior of two women in the English town of Windsor. What makes this production unique is that it has been modeled in the style of a classic fifties sitcom.

Notorious flirt, Falstaff (Toby Minor) has set his sights on the two wealthiest women in Windsor, Mistress Page (Babs George) and Mistress Ford (Gwendolyn Kelso). Short on money, he hopes that by seducing these "merry wives," he can secure himself a hefty fortune. Unbeknownst to Falstaff, the women are close friends and almost instantly become aware of his scheme. Their plot for revenge on the old scoundrel winds up subjecting Falstaff to a series of humiliating incidents all while having matters complicated by Mistress Ford's jealous husband (Nick Lawson). The play culminates with a practical joke in the woods involving some very mischievous "faeries."

The performances in the two-hour show ranged but were overall entertaining. After a rather sleepy start to the first act, the production recovers thanks to exemplary performances from Babs George and Gwendolyn Kelso. Fitting with the sitcom style, the two actors resemble a Shakespearean Lucy and Ethel and breathe life into the production. George and Kelso play off each other beautifully as they exact their good-natured revenge and the result is as hilarious to watch, as it is charming. Toby Minor as the comical miscreant Falstaff embodies physical humor as he is put through his paces by the two women. Other notable performances are Nick Lawson as the neurotic Master Ford and Johanna Whitmore as the spirited Mistress Quickly.

Scenic design by Patrick W. Anthony is functional and uncomplicated, while still feeling fanciful. The three distinct, rotating pieces that serve as the set are easy to maneuver by the ensemble and impressive to the hillside audience. Mr Anthony's whimsical and ambient lighting again truly showcases his skill as a designer. Costumes by Benjamin Taylor Ridgway are well suited to the play's setting and the actors. The quintessential vintage look is implemented fabulously through well-tailored suits, bold patterns, and brightly hued vintage dresses.

It is the women who truly shine in this production and that, unfortunately, makes the underwhelming performances by the male ensemble in the beginning of act one more glaringly obvious. Many moments are lost and plot points go unnoticed due to lack of energy and unclear motivation. The sluggishness of the show is alleviated once the focus is shifted, more so onto Mistresses Page and Ford. The pace picks up quickly in act two and the production is able to pull off an enjoyable ending.

All things considered, THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR is good Shakespearean fun. Attending performances at Zilker's Hillside Theatre is always a delight because of the wonderful experience offered. That combined with an entertaining production with laugh out loud antics, makes for perfect outdoor entertainment. So go pack a picnic and catch this enjoyable spring comedy.

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR is now playing at the Beverly S. Sheffield Hillside Theater (2206 William Barton Dr, Austin, TX 78704) until May 27th with performances run Thursday through Sunday at 8pm.

Run Time: Approximately 2 hours with 15-minute intermission

Tickets: FREE

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