BWW Review: THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR at Folger Theatre
One of the biggest challenges in producing Shakespeare, is making it appealing and fresh to audiences of all ages. "How can it feel both accessible and intriguing?" With these thoughts in mind, Aaron Posner and his team must have had some long brainstorming sessions. Luckily, however, they have truly succeeded at a concept that is both loads of fun and works perfectly for William Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor. It's 1972 at the Folger and it's quite the time!
The Posner lead production is strikingly rich in performance, production value, and execution. From the moment you walk in, you know you are taking a step back in time, and you have some thoughts as to where you could be going, however, it is not until the cast explodes onto the stage in bright, bold, traditional 70s wear, singing a comically entertaining opening tune of invitation to their show.
Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor centers around Sir John Falstaff (Brian Mani), a knight who is about to hit an awfully low point in money, direction, and life. How can Falstaff change his path? By way of love, he thinks. In an attempt to woo over two wealthy wives to gain access to their husbands' money, Falstaff writes and delivers the exact same letter to the two women. Upon Mistress Ford (Ami Brabson) and Mistress Page's (Regina Aquino) discovery of the letters being identical, they take it into their own hands to hold Falstaff accountable. Upon hearing of this, Mr.Ford (Eric Hissom; u/s Ryan Sellers) becomes instantly jealous and dresses in disguise to meet with Falstaff and gain insider information. Through a series of comedic and smart twists and turns, Falstaff is finally brought to the center and ridiculed for trying to take advantage of women. Intertwined in Falstaff's scheme with Mr. and Mrs. Ford and Mr and Mrs. Page is a love story that is unfolding between Anne Page the daughter of Mr. and Mistress Page. Three men love the same girl: Fenton (Dante Robert Rossi), Dr. Caius (Cody Nickell), and Abraham Slender (Brian Reisman). Her father sees her marrying one, and her mother the other, but ultimately Anne chooses to follow her hear in the end.
Folger's production is filled with performances that shine. Leading the cast is the mighty Brian Mani. Mani's Falstaff is the perfect blend of comedy, deception, intrigue and of course humiliation. Rocking his classic 70's bellbottoms and tye-dye, the vibe sure does fit Falstaff's nature. The supporting cast delivers equally as strong performances including those by the Ford (Ryan Sellers and Ami Brabson) and Page (Tyee Tilghman and Regina Aquino) couples. I especially extend my admiration to Ryan Sellers who stepped in for the performance as Ford. Sellers' performance was noteworthy. One of the most remarkable performances that stood out was that of Kate Eastwood Norris as Mistress Quickly. Her character definition is right in her name: she delivers messages for everyone quite "quickly." Norris' coupling of comedy and urgency made way for a powerhouse, scene-stealing, Mistress Quickly. Norris' costumes and true 70's hairstyle only added to the already incredible performance. "It's an aside" Quickly exclaims to both the audience and the characters on stage, only to find us erupting in laughter. This is only one shining moment of Norris' exquisite Mistress Quickly.
Aaron Posner assembled an incredible team to bring this production and concept to life. Posner's attention to detail and belief in his concept made way for an exceptional end result. It is apparent how much work Posner did to "freshen" up the script to especially aid the 70s concept. Together with Tony Cisek's remarkable "Brady Bunch" like set, Devon Painter's transformative, all-out 70s costumes, Max Doolitle's bright-colored, electrifying lighting design the design team masterfully transported the audience into this world. It is important to note Matthew Nielson's original music for which he wrote. The songs were a fun way to introduce the show and its world and they certainly left me smiling. Nielson's sound design and choice of music was also extremely well-done and worked perfectly.
I have been thinking about this show a lot since I saw it. I am so fond of this production, it's performers, the concept, the designs, and all that it has to offer. I can't recommend it enough and urge you to get tickets.
Folger and the team lead by Aaron Posner have truly triumphed. The Merry Wives of Windsor is wildly entertaining, remarkably executed and extremely important. Not only does this show bring you back to a certain time and place and invite you into a mostly comedic story, but it showcases the power of smart, powerful women, who don't let anyone or anything mess with them.
Total Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is on stage from January 14 through March 1, 2020. Tickets are available online at www.folger.edu/theatre or by calling the Folger Box Office at (202) 544-7077.