Women were, throughout history, often considered to be the subordinate partner in a marriage. Expected to be civil and faithful. But what happens when a couple classy women want to have a little fun? Well, they twist the minds of men to drive them mad with jealousy.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is a Shakespearian play following the lives of rich-folk in a small town. Many plots collide over the course of the play, all displaying themes of jealousy, betrayal, fun, and revenge. Directed at Albion College by Robert Starko, chair and assistant professor of theatre, this witty and dynamic adaptation keeps the original language of Shakespeare, but has a groovy twist: it’s set in 1950s in the heart of America. With many cunning characters, all acting on their own accord, and quick scene turnover, the three hour play goes by quickly.
John Falstaff (Peter Verhaeghe, senior) is a scuzzy man who desires money. He plans on seducing two women, Mistress Page (Callie Bussell, senior) and Mistress Ford (Meghan Bortle, junior), who are both already married. His posse members Pistol (Marie Perreault, sophomore) and Nym (Meghan Slocum, junior) plot against him to rat him out to the ladies’ husbands.
Mistress Page and Mistress Ford receive letters of courtship from Falstaff and decide to play a game. Mistress Ford will lead him on to make her husband, Master Ford (Paden McCown, senior), jealous. Mistress Page will assist her. They enlist the help of Falstaff’s servant, Robin (Shannon Seward, senior). The ladies are quite devious and funny in their actions. They playfully trick the men in their lives and giggle behind their backs.
Master Ford is told of the plot of Mistress Ford by Pistol. He becomes enraged with jealousy and decides to go in disguise to try and bust the adulterers. He can never seem to catch the two together, and his plot is foiled over and over again by his clever wife.
The marriage of Miss Ann Page (Shannon Seward, senior) is a concern to her parents, Master Page (Max Brosnahan-Lusk) and Mistress Page. They each wish for a different man to marry her. Master Page has his heart set on young Slender (Christopher Herweyer, first-year), who, with his handsy uncle John Shallow (Brandon Marino, sophomore), is after her money. Mistress Page desires for her daughter to marry a rich French doctor, Caius (Corey Brittain, senior). Miss Ann Page, however, is in love with a poorer man, Mr. Fenton (Zach Nethercut, senior), whom her parents both disapprove of.
Mistress Quickly (Brittney DeShano, sophomore), who is deeply interested in Falstaff, decides to be a messenger to all sides of the plots. She holds all the keys and knowledge to everyone’s plans. She has plenty of her own fun in seducing Falstaff and manipulating the other characters by telling their secrets.
What is good
To start, the set and costumes were incredible. The costumes were bright, detailed and very authentic. The stage had a central two-storied structure and many props of furniture and fruit stands making scene changes believable and diverse. There were also shields which were hung center-stage to label, in a way, where the scenes were. Toe-tapping music buzzed over the speakers during scene changes reminding viewers of the times.
The acting was impressive and well-cast. Verhaeghe and DeShano are full of emotion and have great chemistry. Their frisky movements and confident demeanor are a joy to watch.
McCown has clever voices and showcases his character very convincingly. His face is full of emotion when he is angry, crazy and sneaky.
Marino and Brosnahan-Lusk, as always, project expertly and use large arm movements as they travel across the stage. Marino’s attentive expressions were very convincing and rather funny.
Seward’s talent is clear in her two roles in this play. She constantly is displaying emotion, especially when Robin tries to please Pistol at the bar–I couldn’t stop laughing.
Perreault was sassy and also did a splendid job of playing two pretty different characters.
Bortle and Bussell have the chemistry of long-time friends. They are excitable and clever with posh expressions. They pay close attention to their characters and the time they have been set in.
Nethercut is another actor who has two roles in the show. He plays them both convincingly, especially Fenton. His voice is loving and honest when he speaks to Ann Page.
When the actors were not the main focus of the scene, they kept attentive and expressive. The scenes were made more dynamic because one could always watch the other actors have whispered conversations and relationships between each other.
I felt included in the plot with a few characters breaking the fourth wall and telling the audience their plans. I was excited to see the plot unfold.
What could use improvement
The scene changes took some time. Though there was a lot to move, there could be a way to make them more efficiently.
Some voices were difficult to understand. Hugh Evans (Michah Bryan, senior) is supposed to be a Welshman, but the accent seemingly fluctuated between English and Irish, which made his character less believable. Slender (Herweyer, first year), though his accent was fine, under-enunciated, so it was hard to make out what he was saying. Simple’s (Meghan Seward, junior) voice was squeaky and slurred, but her other character, Nym, was done very well. Dr. Caius does a very nice French accent, but sometimes he spoke too quickly and mashed his words together.
Some actors throughout the play had fumbles. There were also points where characters faced away from the audience and became detached and difficult to hear.
Overall, The Merry Wives of Windsor is clever and full of energy. It is not hard to follow, though the audience does need to pay attention for they keep the original Shakespearean language. The characters are well-rounded, and the humor is witty. It made me laugh and kept me thinking. It was quite a joy to see!
Opens: Thursday, Nov. 21, through Saturday, Nov. 23, at 8 p.m. There is a 2 p.m. showing Sunday, Nov. 24. Albion College’s Herrick Theatre is connected to the DOW. Tickets are two dollars.
Photos by Hannah Litvan