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Merry Wives of Windsor is now showing at the Shakespeare Theatre Company until July 15 in the beautiful Sydney Harman Hall.  Directed by British director Stephen Rayne, the production is full of strong performances, incredible set designs and gorgeous costumes.  Thought to have been hurriedly written by Shakespeare in honor of a special event, Merry Wives is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s weaker plays, yet the plot is nevertheless amusing in addition to remaining historically important: Merry Wives was his only play directly set within the politics and society of middle-class Elizabethan England.

In the wake of Downton Abbey popularity, Rayne sets Merry Wives in World War I England, the story transitioning to the early 20th century quite easily, the early 16th century a time of political and economic shifts also characteristic of WWI England.  Merry Wives tells the tale of two married women, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, pursued by the same corpulent lush, Sir John Fallstaff, who greatly underestimates his intended paramours’ capacity to strike back after they uncover his duplicity.  Upon discovering that they both received identically penned love letters, the women join together to trick Sir John, fueling the winsome plot with their antics.

Although a comedy, Merry Wives addresses many issues of class and economy, with Sir John Falstaff not only attempting to grasp the luxurious hems of Mistresses but also make off with their husbands’ fortunes while bounding up England’s social ladder as quickly as possible.  The chemistry between Mistress Page, played by Veanne Cox, and Mistress Ford, played by Caralyn Kozlowski, is both pleasantly energetic and mischievous, while Falstaff is perfectly epitomized by David Schramm.  Early on in the production, the small cast almost seemed overwhelmed by the sheer size of the stage, although further scenes coupled with intimate interiors seemed to reestablish the actors’ emotional connection with one another which carried throughout the rest of the show.

If at all a fan of 1919 style and design, Merry Wives is a must.  The elaborate set pieces, designed by Dan Conway, are incredibly exacting in their features of Art Deco and Art Nouveau details, and the costumes by Wade Laboissonniere are breathtaking in their beauty and period representation. The Shakespeare Theatre’s Merry Wives of Windsor is a solid  production, further well-rounded by the stellar costuming and set dressing.

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