MERRY WIVES OF WINDSORBy William Shakespeare
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Directed by Lauren and Jason Morgan
Text coaching/Assistant Direction by Jule Nelson Duac
Stage Manager – Rachel Nicole Poole and Michael Green
Costume Design – Lauren Morgan
Set Design – Jason and Lauren Morgan with Aidan Wright
Props Artisan – Jean Jeske
Creative Engineer and Props Designer: Jennifer Stewart and Lauren Morgan
Lighting Design – Branson White
Creative Engineering – Jennifer Stewart
Fight and Intimacy direction – Jule Nelson Duac
A Solomon Abah Jr. as Falstaff
Karen Matheny as Mistress Ford
Jason Morgan as Ford
Laura Jones as Mistress Page
Evan Faris as Page
Maggie Ewing as Anne Page
Keith J. Warren as Doctor Caius
Kurt Kelley as Abraham Slender
Drew Denton as Fenton
Nicholas Zebrun as Sir Hugh Evans
Blake Hametner as Robert Shallowllda
Cory Carter as Mistress Quickly
Jessica Dahl Colaw as Hostess of the Garter Inn
Leroy Hood as Bardolph
Will Frederick as Pistol
Marisa Duran as Nym
Saffron Makoutz as Rugby/Messengers
Reviewed Performance: 2/19/2022
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
If Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, Merry Wives of Windsor is one of the most winsome comedies, farcical even. It was written on a whim as a request by Queen Elizabeth, written, produced, and performed in 2-weeks for the Queen! How’s that for having important patrons? Apparently, she liked his Falstaff character from an earlier play and wanted more. Shakespeare complied.
Merry Wives of Windsor is about two middle-aged wives being wooed by old Falstaff, a large, boisterous, bawdy character from the Henry IV plays, one of the most popular characters in the Shakespeare canon. Falstaff pursues both wives for their money and his vanity. The setting is Windsor. That’s Windsor Castle? Where a current Queen Elizabeth spends her weekends? Where did English royalty since William the Conqueror lived? But in Shakespeare’s day, it was Queen Elizabeth I. These Merry Wives are not royalty. They’re middle-class and affluent, a new economic reality in England, and people the spammers of the day liked to prey on. What do you do when you discover someone’s trying to spam you? That’s what the wives see and how they deal with Falstaff is the story of the Merry Wives of Windsor.
In one corner is Mistress Ford, played by Karen Matheny, and Mistress Page, played by Laura Jones. After each receives a letter from Falstaff, they’re initially excited to be pursued. Could they still be desirable? When they discover they’re being pursued by the same man, that requires a response. How can they shame Falstaff to make him suffer? Maybe string him along?
In the other corner is Sir John Falstaff, formerly of the army of King Henry IV. Played by A. Solomon Abah Jr., this character is larger-than-life in every way. It takes a big actor in stature and personality to create Falstaff so that audiences can love him even as he acts despicably. Abah Jr. was that actor, big physically, big voice, big presence, able to tackle subtle undercurrents of a highly flawed man and keep audiences wanting more. Falstaff is self-indulgent, self-praising, believing he’s loved and wanted. He’s self-deluded, unable to see the truth. That ripens him for a downfall. Shakespeare loved downfalls. Abah created Falstaff’s air of invincibility and destiny. But the fall is dizzying, confusing, and shaming. Could he accept being seen as a fool? Abah showed that with his roller-coaster emotions of apparent success and realized rejection.
Matheny as Ms. Ford and Jones as Ms. Page imbued their wife characters with a gleeful vengeance, creating agonizing failures for Falstaff, laughing all the way. The wives’ alliance ensures he gets a full comeuppance for his sins. And the audience loves to see this, while pitying Falstaff.
Mistresses Ford and Page are married and have a few issues with their husbands, who have their own take on this situation. Master Ford, played by Jason Morgan, is a middle-class member of Windsor society, but jealous of his wife. When he learns of Falstaff’s intentions, Morgan plays out Ford’s subplot to catch Falstaff in action. Ford doesn’t know of his wife’s plot, but as the wives learn of his, they include him in their plan to teach men some lessons, kill two birds with one plot? Morgan initially played an appropriate middle-class personality for Ford but let Ford’s extremes of jealousy escalate into his own form of craziness.
Ford’s bait and catch plan is one of the subplots in this story. Hold on to your hat. There are several more, a favorite attraction for 16th Century audiences, and apparently for Texan audiences too.
Evan Faris played Master Page, Ford’s friend. Page is not jealous. He either trusts her more or cares less but he doesn’t believe Ford’s accusation and questions his friend’s antics. Instead, he has his own subplot going, the open pursuit of his daughter by several unsuitable suitors. Faris made Page a typical Englishman, refined, low-key, measured. Page is protecting his daughter’s honor and wanting a stable suitor, a choice of the best of some bad choices. He wants to arrange the marriage but he’s at odds with his wife, and this creates a conflict.
Faris looked like a normal father most of the time as his Master Page tries to control Anne’s future. Thinking he has it covered, he gets caught up in Ford’s jealous antics and doesn’t see his own fall coming. Ms. Page knows how to get her way and manipulates the situation to get her own choice for a marriage match.
Maggie Ewing, as Anne Page, created a normal young woman of means and beauty, obedient to her father, going along with his attempts to control her life, but also ready to declare independence and make her own choice. It foreshadows Tevye and his daughters a few hundred years later. As this subplot unfolded, Ewing had lots of room to play hurt and misunderstood at times and strong and resolved at others, showing her own emotional turmoil and sly satisfaction as she takes over her own life.
There are several suitors to Anne. She’s young and pretty and apparently comes with a large dowry. Her father favors Slender, played by Kurt Kelley. He’s simple-minded but, like Falstaff, believes he’s a great catch. We watch Kelley bumble and balk at any talk of Slender’s marriage. Doctor Caius, played by Keith J. Warren, is a diminutive, older, French suitor who learns of the family’s plot to support Slender and starts his own plot to overcome the family plan. He might be a good economic choice, but his French mannerisms are extreme. Warren in some ways was like Falstaff, fun to watch despite his likely failure. Warren dealt with Caius’ off-putting foreign personality, a difficult accent, and an aggressive style ready to start sword fights to the death! Drew Denton, on the other hand, played Fenton as an attractive young man with no future, but the exact kind of air guaranteed to make any young daughter swoon. Fenton must try to win Anne against the family’s wishes the old-fashioned way, trickery. All these characters are critical to the story and all three played their roles with gusty, over-the-top responses and actions, and what looked like great joy. In a Shakespeare farce, by the way, “over-the-top” is not only legal but it’s expected.
Yet another subplot appears between Sir Hugh Evans, the clergyman, and Dr. Caius getting into an argument. Evans, played by Nicholas Zebrun, is Welsh and educated. He tries to mediate conflicts amongst other characters and ends up in his own conflicts, especially with Dr. Caius when he’s found to be supporting Slender’s bid for marriage. Zebron shows us a man who is learned and wise in the world, except for fighting, when there’s an imminent duel which Evans had to accept. That allowed Zebron to play out Evans’ terror with his own over-the-type farcical dread of the end.
Shallow, played by Blake Hametner, is the uncle of the dim-witted Slender. He’s dismayed by Slender’s lack of social skills but wants him to marry Anne for the dowry. Hametner plays up Shallow’s bravado and loud claims of power, demanding amends from Falstaff. But Evans intercedes to mediate this argument and Shallow finds the ability to subvert Evans’ pending duel. Hametner rode this friendship coaster to make Shallow more complex and more interesting.
There’s a slate of added characters in helper roles. Shakespeare wrote minor roles as especially important parts of stories. In Merry Wives, they’re the followers of Falstaff, a housekeeper and slave of Dr. Caius, and the Hostess of the Garter Inn. Leroy Hood as Bardolph, Will Frederick as Pistol, and Marisa Duran as Nym are loyal to Falstaff, being his aids in the recent wars until he asks them to be messengers to the wives. They turn on him and tell the husbands. Eventually, they help the wives shame Falstaff, though they’re too dim to know it. Jessica Dahl Colaw is the Hostess of the Garter Inn, where Falstaff lives. She likes Falstaff and her tenants and bar regulars but gets involved with the various escapades in some of the plots. Cory Carter as Mistress Quickly and Saffron Makoutz as Rugby is Dr. Caius’ employees. Quickly, especially, gets involved in the marriage plots, but in the end, is key to a final plot to help Anne get her man. All these characters also end up in the final scene with fairies and such, but you’ll need to see that to know why.
This play has the same production team as Hamlet and essentially the same set and tech. A few changes to the set gave it a minor different look. The musical backing ran frequently in this show with more modern (16th Century) musical choices. The costumes were updated a bit with pantaloons for most of the men and more colorful renaissance dresses for the ladies. One difference is the lighting, darker for Hamlet, brighter for Merry Wives of Windsor. All-in-all, this was a good outing for SSG to show contrasting styles of Shakespeare.
While Hamlet had a lot of psychological drama with many possible themes and meanings, Merry Wives of Windsor is a light, entertaining comedy to get audiences to laugh at themselves. We’re all subject to the various plots in our lives. What stood out for me was how the actors played these vastly different stories, characters, and extreme style differences in alternating performances, often on the same day. It’s worth seeing both Hamlet and Merry Wives of Windsor just to see how well that’s done. Of course, there is that William Shakespeare, greatest playwright of all time, thing. It’s worth your time.
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy Street, Fort Worth, TX. 76107
Plays through March 6
Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, Sundays at 2pm
General Admission tickets are $24-28. Check site for details.
In repertory with Hamlet. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.stolenshakespeareguild.org or call Theatre Mania at