Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Merry Wives of Windsor
Southwest Shakespeare Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of The Book of Mormon, Scapin, James and the Giant Peach, Mary Poppins, and West Side Story


Stephen Hotchner, Emily Mohney, Jesse James Kamps, and Clay Sanderson
Photo by Michael Simon / Southwest Shakespeare Company
It's been over four hundred years since William Shakespeare's first play premiered, so it's understandable why some theatre companies change the time period or setting in order to add a fresh spin on one of Shakespeare's classic plays. While most of the updated productions of Shakespeare's work that I've seen haven't been completely successful, Southwest Shakespeare Company's The Merry Wives of Windsor, turned into a 1950s sitcom, scores on just about every front.

Considered to be Shakespeare's most farcical play, The Merry Wives of Windsor follows the poor and pompous Sir John Falstaff as he attempts to seduce two wealthy married women, Alice Ford and Margaret Page, but ends up being made a fool by both. Meanwhile, Frank Ford, the extremely jealous husband of Alice, who believes she is being unfaithful with Falstaff, disguises himself and hires Falstaff to prove his suspicions. Add in the plans to marry off Margaret's daughter Anne to a series of ill-matched suitors, plus two supporting characters, one French, one Welsh, who humorously bastardize the English language, and you have the comical, far-fetched components of a traditional sitcom.

Director Ben Tyler skillfully instructs his cast to play their parts in the exaggerated style of a classic TV sitcom set in 1959, with added, and fun, commercial breaks for "Falstaff Beer" at a few of the scene changes. While the entire cast is quite good at portraying the over-the-top comic performance requirements for a TV comedy, Jesse James Kamps is stellar in playing the jealous husband Frank Ford. Kamps appears to be relishing this opportunity and his exaggerated expressions and comical body language add to the fun when Ford's insane jealousy overtakes him. As Falstaff, Peter Good is quite good and, while he has no problem in playing Falstaff as an arrogant buffoon, he actually makes you sympathize with him as to all that Falstaff is put through.

Emily Mohney and Jordan Letson, as Alice Ford and Margaret Page, are adept in portraying the typical 1950s mom and wife and, though they don't quite become Lucy and Ethel from "I Love Lucy," they make a fun duo who band together in several funny set-ups to deal with both Falstaff and Frank Ford's mischievous plans. In the supporting cast, Jon Gentry is humorous as Doctor Caius, the French physician who believes himself to be the perfect suitor for Anne; Jamie Bauer is a bundle of energy as Mistress Quickly, the chatty, talkative, and nosey servant; and Connor Wanless and Andy Cahoon add a few moments of levity as the two other men who are pursuing Anne.

Creative elements complement the sitcom element perfectly. Costume designer Maci Hosler's period-specific outfits dress the cast in superb stereotypical outfits of the period that are colorful and bright, while hair and make-up designer Sasha Wordlaw's contributions elevate the end result of each character beautifully. I especially like how the costumes and hair designs for Mohney and Letson make them appear to be stand-ins for Lucille Ball and Donna Reed, how Anne is a typical bobbysoxer, and that two of her suitors, Wanless and Cahoon, are played as if they are a 1950s nerd and jock. Leroy Timblin's set design is a colorful mock-up of a TV sitcom set. The only thing missing is a TV camera and laugh track.

With a fast pace and tightly choreographed stage direction to keep the play moving along at a quick clip, and fun performances from the entire cast, Southwest Shakespeare Company's The Merry Wives of Windsor makes for a fun TV sitcom on stage.

The Merry Wives of Windsor runs through October 31st, 2015, with performances at the Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street in Mesa, AZ. Tickets can be purchased at swshakespeare.org or by calling 480-644-6500.

Director: Ben Tyler
Scenic Designer: Leroy Timblin
Production Stage Manager: Andrew Kofile
Costume Designer: Maci Hosler
Lighting Designer: Daniel Davisson
Hair and Make-Up Designer: Sasha Wordlaw
Properties Designers: Petey Swartz
Sound Designer: Peter Bish

Cast:
Frank Ford: Jesse James Kamps
Mistress Alice Ford: Emily Mohney
George Page: Clay Sanderson
Mistress Margaret Page: Jordan Letson
Anne Page: Mary Townsend
Fenton: Andy Cahoon
Sir John Falstaff: Pete Good
Bardolph: Bill Bennett
Nym: William Wilson
Pistol: Alex Oliver
Robin, Falstaff's Page: Liam Thibeault
Host of the Garter Inn: Neil Switzer
Shallow, a Country Justice: Stephen Hotchner
Abraham Slender: Connor Wanless
Sir Hugh Evans, A Welsh Parson: Michael Bailey
Doctor Caius, A French Physician: Jon Gentry
Mistress Quickly, Caius' Servant: Jamie Bauer
Peter Simple, Slender's Servant: Tony Latham
John Rugby: Seth E. Scott
John and Robert, Ford's Servants: Samuel Rozinski, Jeff Deglow

--Gil Benbrook


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix


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