Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa: a guest review

My dear friend and long-standing guest Karen writes this review of Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa.  My opinions are in the comments.

Maybe it was the stress of worrying whether or not the fog was going to lift early enough for my Monterey-SFO flight to land in time for me to make my 1/2 hour connection to the plane to Medford.  Or, perhaps it was the cab driver telling me that the audience for this show was “leaving in droves” at the intermission.  Or, it could have been the other guests at my favorite bed and breakfast remarking how astonished they were that OSF would present a play that still needed so much work.

Whatever the reason, I arrived to see The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa with more than a bit of trepidation.  The theatre was a third empty with almost 400 seats unsold; an unusual situation for the Thursday before the Labor Day weekend.  The trumpets sounded, the OSF flag was raised, the lights dimmed and the full moon shown over the beautiful outdoor theatre.

It began well enough with great music, bright costumes and lively cheerleaders.  This was going to be a fun show!  Falstaff as a politician, who had lost his bid for the Presidential nomination in the Iowa caucuses, is a great conceit.  The actor playing him, David Kelly, does a terrific job of combining the essential character traits of egoism, narcissism and opportunism.  He set the frenetic pace and tone of the production with unflagging energy and expertise and his high standards are met by the ensemble.  In fact, the acting is almost uniformly excellent.  The same can be said for the staging, costumes, music and lighting.  It is a lively, colorful and engaging production.

The problem is with the script.  In her adaptation, Alison Carey’s use of modern language and idiom fails to mesh with the Shakesperean cadence.   As a result, the listener is constantly adapting to uneven rhythms that make relaxing into the play impossible.  It probably seemed like a good idea in the initial conceptual discussion period.  I imagine it as something like Neil Simon’s play, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor”  with all of Sid Caesar’s writers sitting around a table coming up with next week’s jokes.  And, there are lots of clever quips and puns:  “This endless flume of farm subsidies” and “His American pot does melt all that is within it.”  But it doesn’t really work as a play.  There is too much “schtick” and slapstick and one too many lesbian relationships.  The effort to bring a modern perspective to the familiar themes would fit better into a television series where the audience has more time to get to know the characters and keep them all straight (no pun intended!).

Comments (1)

  1. Ellen -
    September 7, 2012

    I agree the issue I have is with the script. The play is Shakespeare’s Merry Wives meets Hee Haw.
    I enjoy parody and satire when the target is human foibles — any behavior over which we have choice is fair game. Poking gentle and loving fun at things that are innate is a very delicate matter — be it a [sub]culture, gender-preference, etc. I know the writer and director of “Very Merry Wives” were not being mean, but there was an edge to making fun of the naive, honest and enthusiastic nature of the Midwest culture that sometimes annoyed me.

    But let’s be clear about Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor: it is a very broad, very bawdy bedroom farce. For many modern playgoers who would not at all approve of, or enjoy, a bedroom farce, Merry Wives is tolerable because the play is in King James’ English. It sounds so high-brow, however to the original audience, for which this play is written, it certainly was not high-brow. To modernize the play and write it straight (so to speak) would probably offend or turn off a goodly portion of OSF’s audience. To put a not-so-funny gender-bending twist on it is merely cute, and does not hide the fact that it’s a weak bedroom farce.


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