This Chicago Shakespeare production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” can be summed up in one word—fun!
Imagine the silliest fun slapstick moments in classic “The Honeymooners” sitcom episodes and give them Elizabethan British accents. Add someone humming “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” like the Andrews Sisters and then outright crooning or jitterbugging to many another 1940’s song.
That begins to give you a picture of how Chicago Shakespeare’s Barbara Gaines took William Shakespeare’s light -hearted “Merry Wives of Windsor” script and with her direction gave it an injection of lighter still.
This is the story of that bawdy and naughty Falstaff (Scott Jaeck), here busting out of his army uninform, trying to make the moves on two wealthy married women, Mistress Ford (Heidi Kettenring) and Mistress Page (Kelli Fox). He imagines himself irresistible and sets out for financial gain.
That these two women are obvious “best friends forever” with great cheer apparently fueled not infrequently by a few drops from the flask into the teacup sets the stage for their scheming to give Falstaff his comeuppance. Alas, the jealous husband of Mistress Ford (Ross Lehman) creates a complication in bringing Falstaff his due, but not without giving the audience many a good laugh along the way as he dons a disguise to wheedle out the truth of his cuckolding from Falstaff.
Lehman’s clowning is matched by that of Stephen Sutcliffe who plays Slender, one of the mismatched suitors that Anne Page (Tiffany Yvonne Cox) must fend off. Her love story and its eventual triumph is a subplot in this tale. That first master of sitcom Will Shakespeare throws in his trademark mistaken identities with cross-dressing to help the young lovers elope.
Setting this play in post-World War II England was done with costumes and at times by seamlessly inserting lingo from that era such as anachronistic references to “fly boys” into the script. But the main post-war feel came by creating spaces for musical interludes like “Them There Eyes” or “You are My Sunshine”.
Putting it in a 1940s setting was a truly inspired touch. We are harkened back to the make believe simpler times of our modern reference and when TV sitcoms were born, albeit with way more references to sex than chaste Ozzie and Harriet would have allowed.
The actors had no small competition from three beautiful and well-trained dogs. All of the actors were more than up to the task of following dog acts, as daunting as that task is in general and with such lovely pups at that.
It moves from sitcom to chases a la Keystone Cops. And to steal a Shakespeare title, “All’s well that ends well”, and in this case that end is Falstaff’s pratfall with all the town watching.
You can give yourself a good laugh with Chicago Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” at Navy Pier until January 19, 2014.
For tickets or information call 312 595 5600 or visit the Chicago Shakespeare website.
Photos: Liz Lauren