June 26th I attended the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) to watch The Merry Wives of Windsor. Having been a theatre minor, and seeing many GRSF plays over the years I understand that William Shakespeare is one of the most difficult playwrights to read or watch. It amazes me how well this company portrays Shakespeare.
Thirty minutes before the show begins there was a discussion about the plot(s) of The Merry Wives of Windsor. In this discussion we get an overview of what to look for so we aren’t confused with how much is going on. We are also given a “Who’s Who in the Wild World of Windsor” cheat sheet showing how everyone is intertwined. This proves to be effective once the play begins.
The lobby was welcoming. With a pianist playing, there were booths for Shakespeare merchandise, a display of what all there is to do in Winona, and concessions. Many people around the lobby were ready to answer any questions.
At curtain, the company came out and, in case people missed the pre-show discussion, introduced their characters by name and importance. With that, the play began!
Mistress Page (Sigrid Sutter), and Mistress Ford (Tara Flanagan) are The Merry Wives of Windsor. These trusted friends plot revenge on Sir John Falstaff (Jonathan Gillard Daly) who has sent identical letters to both trying to win their affections. This plot grows when we learn Master Ford (Steve Hendrickson) is a rather jealous husband who expects his wife to betray him. Master Page (Michael Fitzpatrick) on the other hand would prefer his wife deal with the matter. While the Mistresses take matters into their own hands, our second plot unfolds.
Anne Page (Jenni McCarthy) has two suitors that are approved by one parent each: Doctor Caius (Andrew Carlson) by her mother, and Abraham Slender (Benjamin Boucvalt) by her father. However, she is in love with Master Fenton (John Maltese). As we see throughout the play, Anne is merely entertaining the idea of marrying either of her suitors, while planning to marry her true love Master Fenton.
Understanding the two plots, we are able to enjoy the hilarities that are ensuing. Mistress Quickly (Leslie Brott) is given all of the inside information, and nudges the plot along. Pulling the strings of both plots and aiding the young lovers in their quest to marry one another. We enjoy Sir Hugh Evans (Christopher Gerson) and Justice Shallow (Chris Mixon) in their bits as they entertain us with Pistol (Brain White) and Nym (Robert Montgomery). A truly an amazing cast.
I know, Shakespeare is hard to understand, but the actors do an amazing job with voices and facial expression to help the audience understand what exactly they are saying. This play is fun yet eventful. Characters are snotty and sassy, which, given the language, can become confusing for audiences. Actors are responding to the ways the lines are delivered, but the facial expressions help the audience know how the characters actually feel about the situation. Since there is a lot of trickery in the play it is very important to pay close attention to both plots.
The show was wonderful. Each actor did a fabulous job. There were many returning actors and some new faces on stage! I look forward to seeing the other shows GRSF has to offer this year!