Review by Danny Gaisin
Old William Shakespeare had a thing about women getting the best of their men. Think of Beatrice; Rosalind; Titania and Portia. Having a controlling or out- maneuvering wife is something this scribe can certainly identify with (forgive the prepositional ending). Seems things haven’t changed much over the past four centuries. Some other ‘plus de change. Plus de meme-chose’ idioms; wanting to marry for money rather than love; and especially- social manipulations. All these delicious things appear in Merry Wives and artistic director Antoni Cimolino is able to bring out all humor, intricacies, convolutions that make this comedy such an eternal favorite. Say ‘Falstaffian’ and everyone knows what is meant.
Methinks even the phrases ‘There’s a Ford in your future’ and ‘Turn a page in your life’ all refer back to the play!
Personal bit that is/was an influence in making this work a favorite. Back in late fifties B.T. (Before Terry), as an eligible young Jewish male in Montreal, I was asked to be a blind date for an Ottawa girl’s Glebe Collegiate graduation. Went, liked her and started to date the lady. A few months later, another such request, this time for the Fisher Park High graduation. Same Deal. After a few months of alternating social intercourse, went to pick up my date and found both girls waiting for me! The schools may have been far apart, but it seems the Ottawa Jewish community was way too small! Guess who was the double loser!
From the above, one can see a certain parallel with the Merry Wives plot. Falstaff tries to seduce both Mrs. Ford & Mrs. Page; the letters get crossed; husbands find out and have a jealousy-based subplot. Then the arranged marriage; plus two suitors, for Page’s daughter’s hand. So, concentration and focus needed to keep on top of the shenanigans.
Cimolino has set the action in approximately the same era as my own Ottawa situation. Bobby sox, hula hoops, even a ‘♫ Leader of the Pack ♪ – dressed motif. Given that ‘Billy Elliot’ needed a ton of adorables, some of those kids are also utilized as support characters, especially as diversions during set changes. The director gets more than full thespian measure from both lead and support cast members. One senses that everyone is enjoying their work as much as the audience appreciates what is going on over the footlights. The set, costumes and even the props all contribute to a fascinating take on a popular and enduring farce.
Geraint Wyn Davies IS Sir John Falstaff. His every utterance, posturing and especially his timing are worthy of any top drawer stand-up comedian. Think of Don Rickles getting away with verbal murder… Davies is just as in control and fascinating. His two female antagonists are Brigit Wilson (Mrs. Page) and Sophie Walker (Mrs. Ford). Both actresses have a special chemistry that makes the audience cross fingers for them to success in their nasty plots to compromise Falstaff. Even familiarity with the tale will not lessen the anticipation of feminine success.
As the ‘Yentelish match-making Miss Quickly, Lucy Peacock seems almost an epitome of perfect casting. Gordon S. Miller’s Dr. Caius with his constant ‘bigar’ and posturing is a little too close to ham. It also helps if one is familiar with his dialogue. Justice ‘Shallow’ Michael Spencer-Davis and nephew ‘Slender’ ( Jamie Mac) are joined by Caius & Mike Shara (Fenton) all hoping to wed Anne Page. Shruti Kothari is certainly eye-candy-rated to deserve such numerical beaus.
If you appreciate comedic Shakespeare; superb thespian talent; dedicated direction and especially if you remember your High School Latin; (Ben Carlson as Sir Hugh Evans, quizzing a young student). It’s at the Festival Theatre until the end of October.