One of the measures of a successful Shakespearean production is the reaction of the audience — after all, poorly delivered Shakespeare loses both its poignancy and humor. Chapel Street Players’ THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, a straight-up comedy, leaves no confusion: it’s straight-up funny and entertaining, with few slow moments. The fast pace, a credit to the acting and direction as much as to Shakespeare, makes the three-hour play fly by.
The storyline is fairly simple: a lecherous but amiable scoundrel named Sir John Falstaff (Dan Tucker) decides to initiate extra-marital affairs with two married Windsor women, Mistress Alice Ford (Sharon Ruegsegger) and Mistress Meg Page (Brooke Bovard). The two women are friends, and, flattered by the attention, share what turn out to be two identical letters of intention from Falstaff. Infuriated, they decide to play along with him in order to exact revenge on him. There is also a second storyline involving Mistress Page’s beautiful daughter Nan (M.E. Ficher) and her three suitors, the foppish and vain Abraham Slender (Tim Sheridan), the pompous French Doctor Cauis (Jeremiah Dillard), and the man she really loves, Master Fenton (Bradley Michalakis). Along for the ride are a collection of scheming maids, servants, and townsfolk.
Performing Shakespeare is challenging, and while there is a range of Shakespearean ability in the cast, most of the actors fall on the high end, with Louise Craigan, in a supporting role as the sassy Hostess of the Garter Inn, giving the most impressive performance, from her flawless delivery to her working class English accent. It’s fair to say that all of the women in WIVES stood out: Reugsegger and Bovard are hilarious and work well together as co-conspirators; Caitlin Shaffstall, as Mistress Quickly, the town busybody, delivers her lines so naturally that even Shakespeare novices will understand; and Ficher is charming and lovely as Nan.
Standouts among the men include Vaughn Ellerton as Sir Hugh Evans, the Welsh Parson; Dillard, with his very funny portrayal of the French Doctor; Aaron Tanzer as the simple-minded Bardolph; Tucker as Falstaff; Sheridan as Slender; Michalakis as young Master Fenton; and the Wives’ husbands, played by Robert J. Touhey and Jack Jordan. Mistress Ford’s suspicious husband Master Ford, played by Touhey, received some of the biggest audience reactions with his soliloquies.
There is a bit of gender bending in the casting as well, notably Falstaff’s cronies Pistol (Jennifer Wilson) and Nim (Connie Regan). Nim is played as a male, while Pistol has been feminized into a “pirate wench.”
Barbara Paolitto’s costuming is lovely, and the sets are simple. All in all a successful production; if you’re in the mood for some Shakespeare — and some laughs — WIVES delivers.
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Robert DeRemigio
Assistant Directed by Linda Kimmelman
March 1 – March 9, 2013
Chapel Street Players
27 N. Chapel Street
Newark, DE 19711