Theater Review: Merry Wives Lives Up to Its Name

August 9, 2021, 11:56.17 pm ET  


Photo: Joan Marcus                                                                                  

There may only be virtual standby and lottery tickets left to this year’s Shakespeare’s in the Park offering, so get thee quickly to a computer. While the Bard’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” may be one of his flimsiest comedies, plenty of laughs abound in Joceyln Bioh’s “Merry Wives,” a smartly updated, Harlem-set adaptation of this rarely-seen work. 

As in the original, the two title women, the happily married Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page (played by the incredibly delightful and inventive Susan Kelechi Watson and the fine, if more subdued Pascal Armand), plot revenge after revenge against the portly, egotistical Falstaff (a superb, uninhibited Jacob Ming-Trent) after he stupidly tries to woo them to pursue marital infidelity. This time, though, his comeuppances take place in, among other places, a local laundromat, just one of the ingenious locations provided by set designer Beowulf Boritt. 

 
Photo: Joan Marcus                                                                                            

Director Saheem Ali’s staging is consistently clever, especially in taking advantage of the gorgeous park scenery for a joyous, dance-filled number towards the play’s end. Still, even that magnificent setting is eclipsed consistently by Dede Ayite’s fabulous costumes. 

Credit for the evening’s mirth also belongs to a remarkably game ensemble of actors (some of whom do unusual double duty), most notably the excellent Gbenga Akinnagbe as the perpetually aggrieved Mister Ford, the very funny Shola Adewusi as the scheming Mama Quickly, and the extravagantly over-the top David Ryan Smith as the pretentious Dr. Caius.

Still, there are times that the basic tedium inherent in the original text can get the better of audiences, especially since sitting for two hours without intermission is an even bigger challenge for many of us post-pandemic. In particular -- even though it now has a splendid, modern-day twist -- the subplot about the three suitors vying for the hand of the Pages’ daughter Ann (a lovely Abena) could easily be excised.

Nonetheless, as few of us have experienced live theater in nearly 18 months, this often delicious diversion is a good enough reason to make haste to the Delacorte and make “merry.”

--Brian Scott Lipton

 

 

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