(from left) Angela Pierce as Mrs. Ford and Ruibo Qian as Mrs. Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Photo by Rich Soublet II.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

The Old Globe, San Diego

Written by:
Josh Baxt
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Sometimes the male and female characters in Shakespeare are intellectually matched and ready to joust. Other times, the women are sharp and the men are simply dolts. The Merry Wives of Windsor is definitely the latter – the women are on top of their games while the men are just along for the ride.

The story is simple. Sir John Falstaff (Tom McGowan), that genius of gluttony, repairs to the burbs to see what kind of mischief he can get into. He decides to simultaneously woo Mrs. Page (Ruibo Qian) and Mrs. Ford (Angela Pierce). With his broad girth, nonexistent table manners and stained clothing, how could they possibly resist?

Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford compare the identical love letters they received from Falstaff and decide to make mischief of their own. Unbeknownst to their husbands, they let Falstaff think he’s succeeding. Mrs. Quickly (Jenn Harris) acts as intermediary.

There is a menagerie of odd men: dim Slender (Jeffrey Rashad), combustible Dr. Caius (Jesse J. Perez), jealous Mr. Ford (Dion Mucciacito) and preening, leather-clad Fenton (Jose Balistrieri). Slender, Caius and Fenton are there to woo Ann Page (Camilla Hsieh), a subplot that never really gains traction. The only man who seems to have his wits about him is Mr. Page (Cornell Womack), who seems only mildly interested in any of it.

This production is set in the 1950s, with a brilliant set that includes a diner, a home and an all-purpose outdoor space. The rotating set really highlights the men chasing their tales.

While the show’s poster intimates a kinship with I Love Lucy, the play itself more closely resembles Happy Days, with Mrs. Ford as a more sassy Mrs. Cunningham and Fenton as Fonzi. The Globe production leans hard into the 50s theme and is replete with references to the era – from the music to cute musings about Cadillacs and S&H Green Stamps.

The triumvirate of Mrs. Ford, Mrs. Page and Mrs. Quickly are, by far, the show’s highlight, and it’s great fun watching them make an ass of hapless Falstaff. Ford in particular takes special joy from toying with her obese suitor, simultaneously drawing him in and keeping him at arms length. Page is a happy co-conspirator, while Quickly seems titillated by the entire affair (and perhaps everything else). They are merry wives, indeed.

Merry Wives of Windsor is not Shakespeare’s (or the Old Globe’s) best work, but it’s a fun play and good for more than a few chuckles.

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