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The Merry Wives of Windsor (Review)

Cincy Shakes' 'Wives' are merry, but the humor is overstuffed

By Rick Pender · November 29th, 2010 · Onstage
The popularity of Sir John Falstaff, the portly jokester in Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays, led to a sequel. The Merry Wives of Windsor today would have been dubbed Falstaff II. And like most sequels, the original idea wears thin. Falstaff is funny, but his coarse, self-aggrandizing behavior is one-dimensional. That’s part of why Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s holiday show grows a bit wearisome (especially at nearly three hours in length), as the oaf repeatedly gets his comeuppance.

Guest director Dan Kenney has transported the story to America, more or less in the 1950s, especially through the lens of period TV shows and movies. Falstaff (Andy Gaukel) is a kind of swinging gangster with no self-awareness. He thinks women find him irresistible, but Mistress Ford (Sara Clark) and Mistress Page (Kelly Mengelkoch) have his number from the get-go.

Their foolish husbands (Jeremy Dubin, Jim Hopkins) complicate matters through jealousy and ignorance.

Every aspect of Merry Wives is overstuffed, too much of a good thing: Pop tunes and choreography are clever (Act II opener “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” uses the entire cast), but the conceit becomes tiresome. Some characters are based on pop icons (Carey Davenport plays a young suitor who channels the angst of James Dean) and the final scene uses sci-fi motifs to dupe Falstaff. But the silliness wears thin long before the story concludes.

Gaukel has a flare for physical comedy and Clark, Mengelkoch and Dubin know how to milk Shakespeare’s verbal humor for laughs. Christopher Guthrie (who designed the flexible set in red, yellow, green and white, as well as the soundtrack) plays a giggling gangster and a foppish French physician with amusing results. But ultimately Merry Wives felt like an SNL sketch that didn’t know when to give it up.

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues through Jan. 2. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.



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