Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) The Merry Wives of Windsor

Left to right:  Geoff McBride, Simon Bradshaw, Katie Ryerson, Matthew John Lundvall, Melanie Karin, John Doucet (Photo credit:  Justin Van Leeuwen JVLPhoto)

Toonz From Inside the Buckbasket
by Valerie Cardinal

Grab your picnic blankets and lawn chairs; it’s Shakespeare in the park season! As far as family-friendly Shakespeare, A Company of Fools’ The Merry Wives of Windsor is sure to please all age groups with its Looney Tunes-style tone. 

Falstaff, a drunken fool, has fallen on hard times and attempts to seduce the wives of two rich men, Mistresses Page and Ford, in order to gain access to their money. However, when he sends them identical love letters, the women decide to have a little fun with him and get their revenge. 

As the fool at the centre of the plot, Matthew John Lundvall is a delight.

With a focus on physical comedy and slapstick, the many children and young people in attendance seemed to be having a great time. However, the show still retains its emphasis on witty dialogue so grown-ups stayed engaged too. Every character was made cartoonish – in a great, well-acted way. Simon Bradshaw in particular fantastically embodied each of his characters and even the scene changes with his facial expressions. 

Catriona Leger’s direction leads to a fast-paced, fluid staging that doesn’t get too confusing. As with most Shakespeare, it helps to have an idea of what The Merry Wives of Windsor is about beforehand, but it’s quick on its feet enough to be fun even for those not really following the plot. Vanessa Imeson’s efficient set (a large table turns into a door) and great costuming make the proceedings lots of fun. Although most of the performers portrayed multiple characters, the fluid staging and varied costumes made it easy to tell them apart – to the point where it was hard to tell that they weren’t different actors altogether. For example, it took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize that Melanie Karin played both Mistress Page and Anne Page’s suitor Slender, due both to costuming and the fact that Karin completely disappears into each role. 

As the fool at the centre of the plot, Matthew John Lundvall is a delight. Geoff McBride was wonderful as Miss Quickly, the (female) robust servant who serves as the messenger for Mistress Page and Mistress Ford’s shenanigans. The Company also managed to fix what’s usually my main issue with Shakespeare performances: the young lovers are always the least interesting part of the show. Here, John Doucet seems inspired by Keanu Reeves in his surfer dude portrayal of Fenton, and Katie Ryerson takes the stereotype of the virtuous young girl in love with a man her parents don’t like to Disney princess levels. Actually, there were no weak performances here; everyone was on the same crazy level of energy. 

The Merry Wives of Windsor also features creative and fun use of great-looking puppets, which is a clever way of remedying the fact that this show has a ton of characters. Although it’s a long show (this is still Shakespeare, after all), it’s kid-friendly with some big laughs and even a bit of audience participation near the end. Above all, it has a fun message: don’t mess with bored housewives or they’ll mess with you. 

The Merry Wives of Windsor runs to August 17

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