Theatricum’s ‘Merry Wives’ Guarantees a Belly Laugh

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Mrs. Ford (Emily Bridges) and Mrs. Page (Willow Greer) plot their revenge.
Photo: Ian Flanders

By LIBBY MOTIKA

Circling The News Contributor

For those of us who are exalting in the return of live theater, Saturday evening at the Theatricum Botanicum filled the order perfectly.

Set in the open-air stage under the live oak canopy and full moon to boot, the opening performance of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” answered our post-pandemic hunger for the joyous frivolity provided by the vibrant funny and silly people who wormed their way into our hearts.

Shakespeare’s masterful character, Falstaff, who appears in three of his plays, holds the center of this delicious comedy. This time, the fat, vain and boastful knight who spends most of his time drinking and living on stolen or borrowed money, gets his comeuppance.

His scheme to court two lovely wives in a small town to gain access to their husbands’ wealth invites marvelously inventive and hilarious just desserts.

Falstaff was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, who was said to have enjoyed him so much in Henry IV, she commanded that this comedy be written.

The play was completed in 1601, following the plague of 1593 that gripped London for over a year.

The timing parallels our own emergence from Covid and all the suffering and uncertainty of the last two years.

Director Ellen Geer has set the action in the 1950s, in the seemingly good times following World War II. The action is interspersed with “50’s tunes, with selected word substitutions, that include “Sixteen Tons, “At the Hop,” and even a tap dance routine to “Life Could Be a Dream”; you get the picture.

But while the whole town conspires to thwart Falstaff and call out his buffoonery, including the conniving trickery the two wives concoct to humiliate him, there are recognizable threads of patriarchy. The husbands and fathers still set the rules.

It’s easy to commend all the actors, whose versatility—singing, dancing and lots of physical dexterity—is a perfect definition of acting.

The takeaway of this delightful evening is pure joy. Go see it, you’ll leave filled up with delight and hope.

“Merry Wives” plays in repertory, Thursday through Sunday through September. For tickets, call (310) 455-3723 or visit thratricum.com.

Falstaff (Jeff Wiesen) wooing Mrs. Ford (Emily Bridges).
Photo: Ian Flanders

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