THEATER REVIEW Veterans and Newcomers Shine in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’
A Barrel of Laughs
The Merry Wives of Windsor
MIT Shakespeare Ensemble
October 29–31 8:00 p.m.
Shakespeare’s comedy “The Merry Wives of Windsor” strikes me as one of his more down-to-earth plays, in that it’s not so much about complex romantic networks (though there’s a bit of that) or cross-dressing (and a bit of that) but instead largely about messing with somebody simply because he’s really, really sketchy. Regardless of how much or how little you believe in “an eye for an eye,” it’s difficult not to laugh at the punishment endured by Falstaff, the sketch artist in question and a carryover from “Henry IV.” Cruel as it may seem to extreme empaths, you honestly can’t say he doesn’t ask for it.
As is the case with many of Shakespeare’s comedies, several different plot lines occur simultaneously, but the titular wives of Windsor are as merry as they are because of the antics they perpetrate on Falstaff, played by Greg Lohman PhD ’07, with a paunch that would make Jabba the Hutt feel svelte. Even in Shakespeare’s time, the idea of a secret lover desperate not to get caught when her husband comes home early was as hilarious then as it is today (and probably much less cliché back then, too). But when the audience knows that said secret lover isn’t going to get any loving no matter how hard he tries? Dramatic irony at its finest (and thus my high school English teacher’s quiz on theater vocabulary pays off). There’s also a plotline centering around a young woman with three suitors, which is bound to be entertaining any way you slice it.
I’ve seen most of the on-campus Shakespeare Ensemble shows that have been put on since I arrived at MIT, and I would feel comfortable saying that this production had some of the most consistent acting I’ve seen yet. Although some of the Ensemble’s biggest acting guns from previous shows weren’t on hand for this one, it was nice to see some fresh, but still convincing, faces. I’ve always had a soft spot for supporting characters in either film or theater, but this show in particular gave me plenty to gush over. Whether it’s Megan Nimura as the shrewd servant woman who doesn’t mind a little mischief, Alexander Keesling ’13 as the very pompous, very French doctor, or Thomas Chappell as the well-heeled resident dim bulb, on stage, it’s hard not to enjoy the polish they bring to their roles. Ensemble veteran Kellas Cameron ’10 gets a couple of soliloquies, and he makes the most of them for some high-quality laughs. Another comedic staple that never gets old is watching someone be insulted to their face without being able to speak their objections (until the offender has left and it’s just him and the audience).
Aside from the strong acting and very funny plot, “The Merry Wives of Windsor” is one of those rare plays that has something to offer everyone. If you’re into action, there’s a farcical fencing fight scene between the French (and therefore unfailingly combative) doctor and Chris Braithwaite ’12 as a terrified, near-pacifist parson, which is lots of fun to watch, and a “beat up the old lady” scene, which is more fun to watch than it sounds. Plus, there’s also an abundance of college women in corsets, if that kind of thing is a draw for you.
Act I is funny but consists largely of set-up for jokes, and Act II is the payoff and punch lines, so if you find yourself on the fence about the show at intermission, I’d stick around. The point is, if you’re into comedy, you have the time, and you know how to sift through the Shakes-Speak, I’d suggest you see “The Merry Wives of Windsor” tonight or tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. in La Sala de Puerto Rico. There’s plenty of laughs and plenty of talent, and even if it’s not a perfect production, the gags and jokes are nearly pitch-perfect and (I expect) will get even better by closing weekend.