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January 3, 2014

TT: Fun to be fooled

In today's Wall Street Journal I report on Chicago Shakespeare's new production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Here's an excerpt.

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What is so lovely and life-giving about Barbara Gaines' Chicago Shakespeare production of "Merry Wives," in which the play is reset in England shortly after World War II, is that the good humor seems to roll off the stage in great, generous waves of joy. The lights come up on the main street of Windsor, snow starts to fall and the stage fills with genial souls (and an equally genial dog, one of three in the cast). The war being over, everybody strikes up a chorus of "Ac-Cent-Tchu-ate the Positive," and you can all but hear the audience going "Ooooh!" Nor is there anything manipulative about the creation of that collective pleasure, which lasts the whole night long. That "ooooh" is the sound of a fallen world being made whole.

merrywivesart.jpg"The Merry Wives of Windsor" cries out for music, so much so that it's been turned into three different operas, and Ms. Gaines and Doug Peck, her musical director, oblige by filling the evening with period pop songs that are sung by the members of the cast--sometimes well, sometimes less so, but always to precise emotional effect. How ingenious and telling it is for Mistresses Ford and Page (Heidi Kettenring and Kelli Fox) to plot their tormentor's comeuppance while singing "The Gentleman Is a Dope" in the kitchen, or for Sir John (Scott Jaeck) to be serenaded with a rousing chorus of "Too Fat Polka"! The object, as Ms. Gaines explains in her program note, is to portray "a society that is trying to separate itself from the horrors of war and rebuild itself. Hope and optimism are in the air--and the music of the period reflects that." That it does, irresistibly.

Mr. Jaeck gives us a blimp-like Falstaff whose own fantasies of irresistibility are magnificently ludicrous. I wish he were less prone to encrust his lines with chortles and chuckles--he'd be funnier if he pruned away at least two-thirds of them--and I also wish that the big-city accent of Matt Mueller, who plays Fenton as a visiting American soldier, were more specific. Beyond that, I haven't a single complaint, and for Ms. Kettenring and Ms. Fox I have nothing but praise. They are correctly portrayed as wised-up, hip-flask-toting women of a certain age in whom the gleeful spark of carnal mischief is far from dead, and you'll share the relish with which they turn the tables on Sir John....

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Read the whole thing here.

The trailer for Merry Wives:

Posted January 3, 2014 12:00 AM

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