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Great Lakes Theater’s ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ is comic gold





Rumor has it that after Queen Elizabeth attended a performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV Part 1 she made a request of the Bard to write a play that depicted one of the main characters, Falstaff falling in love. Thus the comedy “The Merry Wives of Windsor” or “Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor” was penned. After all, when the Queen requests one hops to it.


The play was first published in 1602 but is believed to have been written in or before 1597. It is set in the town of Windsor where Windsor Castle in Berkshire, England is located. The timing of the play is set during the reign of Henry IV or Henry V but focuses primarily on the English middle class of the time.


The rotund knight, Falstaff (Daniel T. Parker) has arrived at Windsor short on funds and prospects. Being the lovable rogue and rascal that he is he decides to court two of the prominent women of the town, Mistress Ford (Jessie Cope Miller) and Mistress Page (Jodi Dominick). He composes two identical love letters and orders his servants, Pistol (Jarrell Williams) and Nym (Malik Bilbrew) to deliver them. They refuse and are promptly sacked. In revenge, the men inform the husbands of the two wives of the plot. Mr. Page (Jason Eno) is nonplussed as he trusts his wife while Mr. Ford (Jeffrey C. Hawkins) goes into a jealous rage. Ford hatches a plan that involves the Host of the Garter Inn (where Falstaff is staying) introducing him as “Master Brook” in order to get close to the errant knight and learn of his plans.


As this is going on, Mr. Page has problems of his own. His daughter Anne (Kechanté) has come of age with no less than three suitors vying for her hand in marriage. There is Doctor Caius (Anthony Michael Martinez), a French physician who is preferred by Mrs. Page. Next is Abraham Slender (Josh Houghton), Mr. Pace’s choice and cousin of Robert Shallow (M.A. Taylor) who is the local Justice of the Peace. Lastly, there is Master Fenton (Jerrell Williams) with whom Anne is in love with but who reportedly squandered a considerable fortune and is therefore considered unsuitable by the family. Hugh Evans attempts to enlist the help of the Widow Quickly (Teri Brown), Caius’s servant, to help Slender woo the young lady. The French doctor discovers his intent and challenges Evans to a duel which is thwarted by the Host of the Garter Inn sending each man off to different locations. Realizing this, Caius and Evans become friends and plan revenge against the Host.


Having received the two seemingly identical love letters, the two merry wives admit to each other that they have no interest in the aging, overweight Falstaff as a lover but decide to seek revenge for the knight’s presumptuousness. Mr. Ford, posing as Mr. Brook meets with Falstaff saying that he is in love with Mistress Ford but will not woo her due to her unimpeachable virtue. He offers Falstaff money to court Mrs. Ford with the idea that once she has lost her honor he will be able to tempt her himself.


With the Master of the house away, Falstaff arrives to meet Mistress Ford but Mrs. Page soon arrives telling them that Mr. Ford is on his way. Falstaff is unceremoniously shoved into a laundry basket full of dirty garments and under the eyes of Mr. Ford is spirited away by two servants who proceed to dump him in the canal per instructions of the two women.


The company of actors take great joy in this production as it is ripe with funny accents, rages of jealousy, well deserved revenge, unabashed blackmail, mayhem, terrific overacting and physical comedy with a bear rug all without overdoing it. Add to this the surrealist stage set by Jeff Hermann of bright green houses framed in the Tudor style and exceptional hand painted period costumes by Daniele Tyler Mathews that mimic the stage panels in their flower design. There is also period music conjured up by Matthew Webb and dance numbers “choreographed” by movement director Jaclyn Miller. The stage is abundantly lit by Rick Martin with sound designed by Matthew Webb. Iran Michael Leon handles the wig and hair design and Sara Becker is the dialect coach. Most important is director Terri McMahon who keeps the action fast and furious.


As for the cast, newcomer Daniel T. Parker is the living embodiment of Falstaff. We delight in his plots, especially when they are foiled by the women who always seem to be two steps ahead of him. Jessie Cope Miller as Mrs. Ford and Jodi Dominick as Mrs. Page are perfect partners in crime and foils for the errant knight. Jeffrey C. Hawkins hams it up as the stiffly Mr. Ford whose comic problems with a bear rug are a delight. Anthony Michael Martinez as Dr. Caius and Nick Steen as Sir Hugh Evans show up with exaggerated accents that further enhance their already blown up characters.


With any other company this would be a tough production to pull off but in the hands of GLT this madcap farce about the over weight and over sexed rascal trying to con two ladies of means in Windsor is a feast of comic theater. Old fans and newbies of the Bard will all agree that this is must see theater. It’s all fun until someone gets dumped in the canal then it becomes hilarious.


The Great Lakes Theater production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” will be on stage in the Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square through April 7, 2024. For more information and to order tickets go to https://www.greatlakestheater.org or call (216) 241-6000.


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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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