Review: Shakespeare Festival’s ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ is witty, mischievous fun

L-R: Tarah Flanagan as Mistress Alice Ford and Stephanie Lambourn as Mistress Margaret Page in the Utah Shakespeare Festival's 2018 production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor," Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2018, St. George News

CEDAR CITY — The entirety of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” can easily be summed up in one sentence: It is a lot of fun.

John Ahlin as Sir John Falstaff in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2018 production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2018, St. George News

But why stop there? It is aslo bawdy, melodramatic, mischievous, witty and downright hilarious.

Shakespeare’s classic and popular comedy gets an Edwardian makeover in this year’s production directed by Paul Mason Barnes which uses the language of Shakespeare but is set in the summer before World War I. Another unique twist to the story is the addition of early Edwardian period music and songs, many of which are sung by the cast making it a quasi-musical.

The director made an odd choice to have the actors introduce each character as they are written in the script and subsequently introduce each scene change as if it were part of the dialogue. While I would normally find this choice off-putting, I found that with the updated costumes and the added musicality, it just enhanced the comedy.

The costuming (costume designer Bill Black) and scenery (scenic designer Apollo Mark Weaver) are so exquisitely detailed it is easy for the audience to believe they have been set down in another time period, or at least been given a seat at a window into a different era.

“The Merry Wives of Windsor” follows the financially down on his luck Sir John Falstaff (John Ahlin) as he “romantically” pursues two middle-class housewives in order to extort them for money.

Ahlin is larger-than-life on stage. He uses every inch of his body both in nuanced and obvious ways to tell the story beyond the language. As Falstaff, Ahlin is at times bawdy and vile as well as sympathetic and likable.

Ahlin’s on stage presence is matched only by the merry wives themselves, Mistress Alice Ford (Tarah Flanagan) and Mistress Margaret Page (Stephanie Lambourn) reimangined in this production as Suffragettes.

Mistress Ford and Mistress Page become aware of Falstaff’s plans to woo them and decide to have a little fun with him to punish him for being so bold.

Hilarity and chaos ensue as the two women lead Falstaff into their tricks. Both Flanagan and Lambourn are equal to the tasks of playing opposite Ahlin. They are wit, mischief and femininity wrapped in beautiful Edwardian dresses demanding the audience cheer them on in their plot.

And the audience does.

Michael Elich as Doctor Caius in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2018 production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2018, St. George News

This production is bolstered by a solid cast of actors who each embrace their character and play their parts to the fullest. A few standouts include Geoggrey Kent as Francis “Frank” Ford/Mr. Brook who is sent into fits of jealousy suspecting his wife is cheating on him with Falstaff; Lance Rasmussen as Abraham Slender, an unwilling suitor of the Pages’ daughter; Michael Elich as Doctor Caius a very French physician; Southern Utah’s own Michael A. Harding as Sir Hugh Evans, the Welsh parson; and last but certainly not least the incredible Leslie Brott as Mistress Quickly who is entrusted with a host of matchmaking duties, all of which benefit her to some extent.

Merry Wives is full of classic Shakespearean tropes of mistaken identity, cross-dressing and subplots that include matchmaking and romantic entanglements, all of which the actors harness brilliantly into a show that is a pleasure to witness.

As said before: It is a lot of fun.

“The Merry Wives of Windsor” plays in the Englestad Shakespeare Theatre at the Beverley Center for the Arts, an outdoor theater that evokes the spirit of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The outdoor theater can be subject to the whims of Mother Nature and ambient noise from traffic and other sources can sometimes be distracting.

The production plays on various days Monday-Saturday until Sept. 8. Tickets range between $20-$75 depending on the seat and can be purchased online, in person at the box office located in the Beverley Center for the Arts or by calling 800-752-9849 or 435-586-7878.

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2018 production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2018, St. George News

Event details

  • What: Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”
  • When: “The Merry Wives of Windsor” plays on various days Monday-Saturday until Sept. 8.
  • Where: Englestad Shakespeare Theatre, Beverley Center for the Arts, 195 W. Center St., Cedar City.
  • Cost: $20-$75.
  • Purchase tickets: Online, in person at the box office located in the Beverley Center for the Arts or by calling 800-752-9849 or 435-586-7878.

Email: hreina@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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