The Colonial Players of Annapolis have decided to mount a production of Shakespeare for the first time in over 20 years and after seeing the production the one question to ask is why have they waited so long? The Merry Wives of Windsor, running now through March 23rd at the Colonial Players, is a fresh take on a classic Shakespearian Comedy and a thrilling joy of a night of theatre! Directed by Steven Tobin, the production has been set in the 1980’s in Windsor, Connecticut and all of Shakespeare’s writing shines while highlighted in the perfect 80’s set, costumes, props, and gags. It is a laugh-out-loud, ruckus farce that is truly enhanced by the entire production team and cast embracing the director’s vision of the 1980’s setting.
Directing in the round can always be difficult, but director Steven Tobin pulls it off superbly with a large cast, many moving pieces and a set that is constantly being transformed to create different locations throughout Windsor. The set and floor design by Edd Miller is extraordinary with pieces that double as tables and chairs, a moving center ramp that pivots depending on the location, entryways that are able to move to become seats and a wonderful sign that descends from the ceiling for the Garter Inn. All items appropriately painted in classic 1980’s paint schemes. The sound design created by Richard Atha-Nichols needs to be packaged onto CDs and handed out to audience members so they can play it in their Walkman as they leave the show! From the moment one walks into the lobby through each scene change and the exit music the sound design was a best of 1980’s music and made sure your were with the cast in the setting that was established. The costume design by Amy Atha-Nicholls could have come right out of my family closets and was quite the flashback. The design elements as a whole were a show-stopper that took you down memory lane to the 80’s.
Combine those fantastic design elements with the amazing acting on stage and The Colonial Players of Annapolis have a hit on their hands! The acting on the stage was of the highest caliber with a stamina that is out of this world! Shakespeare is difficult in the best of times, with many weeks of rehearsal, but as was noted everywhere, there was a last minute change of cast due to medical reasons and the role of Falstaff was taken over before opening night by Matt Leyendecker (previous Master Page) and the role of Master Page was taken over by Jeff Mocho (a last minute addition to the cast) and the audience never would have noticed a thing if it would not have been for the announcements in the program and outside in the lobby. Both Leyendecker and Mocho were top-notch and handled their parts with ease. Leyendecker’s performance of Falstaff was a true stand-out performance in the production, you did feel sorry for him for what Mistress Ford and Mistress Page did to him, but you also saw what a creep he was and it was Leyendecker’s skill that made it easy to follow. Mocho smoothly stepped into the role of Master Page and pulled it off with that appropriate 80’s swag that was needed for this rendition.
The Merry Wives – Rebecca Downs as Mistress Ford and Erica Miller as Mistress Page— were witty and strong on stage. Both were able to play off each other with ease, scheming to manipulate Falstaff while hiding their actions from their husbands until time to reveal the truth about what was going on in the town of Windsor. One cannot forget Master Ford (Brian Binney), a man who thinks he is losing is wife to Falstaff and who attempts to catch his wife in the act by disguise and manipulation of Falstaff and who in the end helps his wife and Mistress Page help Falstaff reveal his true motivations.
Throughout all of this, Anne Page (Master and Mistress Page’s daughter, played by Emma Wilansky) is being arranged to be married. Her father is arranging to have her married to Abraham Slender (Richard Miller), her mother arranging to marry her to Doctor Caius (Bill Fellows), and Anne herself arranging to get married to Fenton (Brian Klose). Getting in the middle of this are Mistress Quickly (Jean Berard), the Host of Garter Inn (Mary MacLeod) and Sir Hugh Evans (Mark T. Allen). Money is exchanged and through manipulation of many different people all is believed to be set, but the twist and joke is on everyone and in the end Anne marries her choice.
Director Tobin does a great job of incorporating classic 80’s TV moments into the show, from Fenton raising his Boombox in the air outside of Anne Page’s home to the style of the sign of the Garter Inn and how everyone address Nym (Richard Atha-Nichols) when he enters. One great additional note to the show is how the cast members sing about turning off cell phones and exits at the beginning of the performance to the tune of “Word Up” and at intermission with “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” There are added laughs to be had, but they are appropriate to the show, to the way the show has been re-set in the 1980’s and truly honor Shakespeare’s comedy. There is truly something enjoyable for everyone in this production, and the only thing left to say is get thee to The Colonials Players of Annapolis and see The Merry Wives of Windsor!
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission
The Merry Wives of Windsor plays through March 23, 2019 at The Colonial Players of Annapolis— 108 East Street in historic Annapolis, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 268-7373 or purchase them online.