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Last night, Mrs. K and I traveled to the Indyfringe Basile Theatre (which has been much transformed since our last visit in 2011) for Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project’s season ending production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, directed by Bill SimmonsWe were met there by a very satisfying and well-constructed performance of what is often considered one of Shakespeare’s weaker comedies.

The tale deals mainly with Sir John Falstaff’s need for quick monies and quicker romances. His faux pas of writing duplicate letters to his two targets for said benefits, with the added factor of the targets being very good friends, sets the ball rolling through a rousing story of lively revenge plots, comical jealousies, and mischievous misunderstandings.

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Sir John Falstaff (Adam O. Crowe, left) encounters jealous husband Ford, (Rob Johansen) “disguised” as Brook in a scene from “The Merry Wives of Windsor”.

Simmons writes in the program’s Director’s Notes that this was his first try at directing Shakespeare, or if fact – any classic text, and that he faced the challenge by deciding on a feminist angle, which was indeed on the mark. His precision in guiding his actors’ intentions, and the variety of characterizations allowed, ultimately led this cast to a wonderful understanding of their roles and the ways in which they would personify them. Simmon’s placement of the action at the 1950’s Windsor Hotel & Resort also gave the latitude necessary for a set of ’50s sensibilities and styles, which worked very well.

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Mistress Ford (Amy Hayes, left) and Mistress Page (Claire Wilcher) devise a plan of revenge against the lecherous Flastaff in “The Merry Wives of Windsor”

The cast is led by: Adam O. Crowe – magnificently lecherous and opportunistic as the fat knight, Sir John Falstaff; Amy Hayes and Claire Wilcher – scheming and hilariously giddy as gal-pals Mistress Ford and Mistress Page; and Rob Johansen – a tour de force as the jealous husband Ford (and as his disguise wearing alter-ego, Brook). Overall, this was a most evenly talented group – with memorably devised depictions by Carrie Schlatter as sultry “concierge” Mistress Quickly; Chelsea Anderson as the hula-hooping ingénue, Anne Page; Michael Hosp, as a shorts and collar-wearing clergyman, Sir Hugh;  and Josh Ramsey, whose sporty, nifty Page all but swished through his swank actions. In an ironic twist of Shakespearean practice, several woman played men’s roles, with aplomb. Gari Williams was remarkable as an aggressive Dr. Caius; Frankie Bolda took the role of the doctor’s much put-upon servant, Rugby; and Kelsey VanVoorst wooed the young Anne Page as the indefatigable Slender. Rounding out the well-suited cast was Zack Joyce, as Shallow; Benjamin Schuetz, as Anne Page’s persistent suitor, Fenton; and Adam Tran as Falstaff’s somewhat devious servant, Pistol.

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Some of the unfettered action in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” as the cast breaks into a song, and Page (Josh Ramsey, left) dances with Pistol (Adam Tran)

The action was played on Sara White’s inventive set design, while costume designer Peachy Kean Costuming provided just the right period-look for what sometimes seemed like a 50’s sit-com.

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From left: Dr. Caius (Gari Williams) is urged away by Shallow (Zack Joyce) as Rugby (Frankie Bolda) looks on in “The Merry Wives of Windsor”

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Fenton (Benjamin Schuetz, left) courts young teen Anne Page (Chelsea Anderson) in “The Merry Wives of Windsor”

Bottom-line: It seemed like all the right decisions were made regarding style, casting, designing, direction and feel resulting in a highly enjoyable evening of priceless laughs and depictions. The sit-com relevance is strong in this one, and it works like a charm. Go see it – you will be glad you did.

The Merry Wives of Windsor continues at the Indyfringe Basile Theatre weekends through May 28th. Call 317-522-8099 or go to http://www.wisdomtooththeatreproject.org for ticket and schedule information.

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing
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