MADISON, NJ - A rollicking, festive joyride is on view at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey with The Merry Wives of Windsor through Dec. 27. Although the plot is convoluted and dizzying at times, the actors bring it off with aplomb.
There’s a scheme afoot to foil the bragging Falstaff as two wives, Mistress Margaret Page (Saluda Camp) and Mistress Alice Ford (Caralyn Kozlowski) dream up schemes to reject is advances. David Andrew MacDonald plays Falstaff with a robust presence. His almost-tryst with Mistress Ford is hilarious, involving a laundry basket and various shenanigans. The husbands learn of the flirtations with the wives and each reacts differently. George Page (Joey Collins) is unfazed, while Frank Ford (Matt Sullivan) decides to teach Falstaff a lesson. He disguises himself as Master Brook, leading Falstaff to believe there is money involved if Falstaff will court her.
But there’s more going on than this aspect of the story. The lovely Ann Page (Rachel Felstein) is to be married to either Abraham Slender (Jonathan Finnegan) a nervous young man, or the pompous Doctor Caius (Jon Barker.) Both her parents seem intent on marrying her off to the wrong people. Before the play is over, love conquers all and she and Fenton (James Costello) secretly wed.
Ames Adamson as Sir Hugh Evans, a parson with a strong Welsh accent, sets the stage and frequently narrates some of the action. He’s also involved in a plot to marry off Slender to Anne. Mistress Quickly (Kristie Dale Sanders) is the servant of Dr. Caius who is persuaded by Evans to run interference for a match with Slender. Raphael Nash Thompson as Host of the Garter Inn often runs interference and, ultimately, trying to make things right.
Late in Act II, the two wives conspire to meet Falstaff in the Windsor Forest, then desert him when they hear strange sounds. Falstaff appears as a hunter, with horns of a deer, as they’ve suggested. He is soon surrounded by would-be fairies and wood nymphs, who manage to pinch and punish him for his wrong doings. . He’s terrified and ultimately realizes the foolishness of his ways.
Artistic director Bonnie Monte has directed this vivid production. Tony Galaska’s lighting if especially dream-lie, from daylight to dusk. The scenic design by Jonathan Wentz is an ingenious maze of cutout doors and houses that are moved adroitly around the stage. In the background are sparkling hills and at the side of the stage in Act II, billowing clouds that subtly change color. Yao Chen’s costumes are colorful and suit the period, especially the women’s gowns.
Although the play is long (perhaps some scenes could be cut without losing the basic theme), it’s still a lively frolic to sit back and enjoy this holiday season. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is located on the campus of Drew University in Madison. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.