“The Merry Wives of Windsor”


 ***** There are many theater lovers, who for some reason, are not lovers of the works of Shakespeare. I know that for many it is the length of his plays, and for others it is the language, although English, that they have a problem understanding as it is “old English” not the language we speak, and I am sure there are other reasons as well. If you are one of these people, you owe it to yourself to make the trip to Navy Pier for a solid production of a play hardly ever done, “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, a comical delight directed by Artistic Director Barbara Gaines. The story is about Sir John Falstaff ( who previously was a character in “Henry IV”) who is now low on funds and thuse decides to woo the wealthiets women of the town of Windsor so he can get money from them, their husbands or others.

As usual in Shakespeare’s comedies, we have misrepresentation and characters being tricked and lots of mayhem. Interestingly, what makes this rarely done play so outstanding is that Gaines has brought it into a different time period- it is 1940′s England and she has added some very period music in the way of snippets rather than complete songs. The modernization of this production will be pleasing to those who are not Shakespeare enthusiasts- indeed, the people next to me said that they now plan on seeing more work at the theater.

The set (James Noone) is one that is dramatic in that it turns around and moves about quickly allowing for the story to continue during the changes, The lighting(John Culbert) and sound( Lindsay Jones, who also wrote some original music for this piece) and the costumes(Susan E. Mickey) along with some wonderful wigs (Melissa Veal) are the crowing touches and the choreography by Harrison McEldowney and music direction by Doug Peck make this a complete technical hit.
It is of course the cast that truly makes us laugh and care and Ms. Gaines has assembled Chicago’s finest to bring this production to life. Falstaff become larger than life as played by Scott Jaeck, who shows his comical touches from the very start. The two women/wives are played by Heidi Kettenring and Kelli Fox, both highly talented and very energetic, with their husbands being handled by the always relaible Kevin Gudahl and the hysterical Ross Lehman ( a master of Shakespeare when it comes to comic timing). These are just for starters, as the cast list goes on and on.
The rest of the cast is composed of other familiar names: William Dick, James Harms, Steven Sutcliffe, Matt DeCaro, Don Forston, and an incredible Dr. Caius deftly handled by Greg Vinkler ( another great Shakespeare actor when it comes to comedy). Need I say more! this is a cast list that many theaters would die to have on their stage and CST is able to bring us the likes of these performers on a regular basis. Thank you!

The story also includes some dogs, three to be exact who are all different and do not steal scenes. They are useful in the great “chase scene” in the second act making it even funnier as the actors are searching for Falstaff who is not dressed as a large woman escaping from what might have been an afternoon delight. The audience truly gets involved during this scene. There are many who feel that the second act is far superior to the first, but let’s face it, the first act has to get us into each of the characters so that the second can complete the story. The second story in this one is that Slender (Sutcliffe) is to be married to the daughter of Fox and Gudahl, Anne ( delightfully played by Tiffany Yvonne Cox) but she has her own ideas. There is a marvelous little wedding scene at the end. I also want to mention young Michale Semanic as Robin, a solid performer with a lilting voice.

This is one to see- even if you are not a Shakespeare lover. In fact, this may make you change your attitude. “The Merry Wives of Windsor” will continue at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier through January 19th with performances as follows:
Tuesdays 7:40 p.m.
Wednesdays 1 and 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2 p.m.
Running time is two hours-thirty minutes with an intermission

Tickets range from $48-$78 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 312-595-5600 or online at www.chicagoshakes.com
Under 35? there are some special $20 CST tickets and parking at Navy Pier has been reduced for the holidays ( after 5 p.m. $10) otherise brng your ticket for validation and save 40%
To see what others are saying , visit www.theatreinchicago.com , go to review round-up and click at “The Merry Wives of Windsor’