Colonial Players’ production of The Merry Wives of Windsor is a rollicking farce, and a fun trip down memory lane. Shakespeare’s comedy has been transplanted to Windsor, Connecticut in 1988, bringing with it all the ’80s fashion and music. Directed by Steve Tobin, the show, the first Shakespeare play at Colonial Players in over 20 years, is a joy to watch.
As Tobin explained before the show, due to a medical situation, there was a sudden change in cast. Five days before the opening, Matt Leyendecker now plays Falstaff, and Jeff Mocho was brought in to play Master Page. Leyendecker does an incredible job, expertly hitting the comedy. He is constantly moving, whether swaying his hips in lust or sliding behind a platform to evade a suspecting husband. Even while on the floor hiding, he circles around the platform, anxiously peeking out. Before his last encounter with Mistress Ford (Rebecca Downs), he runs out, laughing manically, determined to finish the job. He whimpers at the thought of being caught, racing around the stage in desperation. At the end, running into the husbands, he screams out “Oh God!”
Rebecca Downs and Erica Miller play Mistress Ford and Mistress Page with witty strength. Both being pursued by Falstaff, they hatch a plan to humiliate him. Downs poses seductively for Leyendecker, then maneuvers around the stage to avoid him, jabbing him in the ribs when he gets too close. They expertly manipulate him into the laundry cart and a dress, high-fiving at their success.
Brian Binney plays Master Ford with a comic intensity. He paces the stage in anguish after discovering Falstaff has targeted his wife. He tears through the laundry cart looking for him, covered in clothes, and must be restrained. Disguising himself to meet with Falstaff, he flatters the knight, trying hides his anxiety. At one point, Leyendecker knocks off Binney’s wig, and he frantically puts it back on while the knight isn’t looking.
Jeff Mocho does a remarkable job as Master Page. Occasionally glancing at the script, he gives Page a relaxed, laid-back quality.
Jean Berard gives a secret cunning to Mistress Quickly. Appearing innocent, and prattling on as a suburban housewife, she secretly arranges for the marriage of two young people and serves as go-between for Mistress Ford and Falstaff. Her discretion at first meeting Leyendecker is hilarious, politely evading the subject while other people are around. She is one of the play’s most powerful figures.
Mary MacLeod plays the Host of the Inn with a quirky authority. She navigates the feud between Sir Hugh Evans (Mark T. Allen) and Doctor Caius (Bill Fellows), although not before pushing Caius into a tennis net. She pockets a large wad of bills from Fenton (Brian Klose) after giving him valuable information.
Bill Fellows is great fun as Doctor Caius, with a thick French accent and an aggressiveness. There’s great comedy in his ordering his assistant Rugby (Tori Scalfaro) everywhere he goes, only dismissing her when going to dinner, to her consternation.
Brian Klose plays Fenton with a quiet determination. During a scene change, he races to Anne’s (Emma Wilansky) house, “Uptown Girl” playing on his boombox, until chased away. Explaining to the Host the multiple plans to marry off Anne, he races around the stage, jumping on the platform and breathing heavily at the end. At play’s end, he quietly but firmly tells Anne’s parents of his own plans.
The set, designed by Edd Miller, with help from Properties Designer and Set Decorator Constance Robinson, serves multiple functions. In the center is a slightly raised platform with ramps on either end. Around them are small white tables, that can be turned into seats. On one side are two small columns for a front porch that become bar stools, while on the other side are two miniature towers that also turn into bar stools. Offstage on the corner is a bar, with more stools.
Lighting Designer Alex Brady indicates scene changes by lowering the lights just enough for the cast to rearrange the set as needed. During the final scene, colored lights flash. Sound Designer Richard Atha-Nicholls entertains the audience during scene changes with classic ’80s songs. In the final scene, the intro to “Thriller” plays. Before the show starts, some of the younger cast members sing about turning off cell phones to the tune of “Word Up.” At the end of the intermission, they sing a reminder to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”
Costume Designer Amy Atha-Nicholls captures the era with her outfits, several for each character. Falstaff is stuffed into a brown jacket and tight pants, with a brown, unkempt tie, briefly also wearing a short red dress with a multicolored shawl. Mistress Page has a green one-piece jumper. Mistress Ford has a blue dress and jacket with huge shoulder pads. Fenton wears a London Fog trench coat. Ford’s disguise is a plaid jacket, red and black shirt, and blue and white striped pants, with a black, curly wig. The last scene is a hoot, with some characters dressed in long silvery jackets, white ruffled shirts, and long, rocker hair, and others in tight jeans and tank tops.
Steve Tobin does a wonderful job as Director. The actors navigate each other and the set perfectly. They speak Shakespeare’s lines clearly and understandably, proving that he translates anywhere. Even with the last-minute cast changes, the show works wonderfully, with lots of laughs. It’s a merry time!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.