The Merry Wives of Windsor Work Hard to be Merry

Culture Watch
tags: theater reviews, The Merry Wives of Windsor

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at

No, William Shakespeare’s merry wives of Windsor are not wives from Britain’s Windsor Castle or of the royal blood. They are the wives of rich merchants in the town of Windsor, which is near the castle. They are not so merry, either, in a new production that opened Saturday at the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey at Drew University, Madison, N.J.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is an historical romp, set in Shakespeare’s England, in which the rather famous Sir John Falstaff, from another Shakespeare play, Henry IV, seen here as a bumbling British Don Juan, announces that he is going to have an affair with the married Mrs. Alice Ford. Other men then volunteer to help him and to pursue another wife, Anne Page. Conferences are held, letters exchanged and threats made. Elaborate plans are made to sneak Falstaff into the chambers of Ford and carry out the seduction under the nose of her husband. The women discover the plot and fight back.

Right around here Shakespeare’s normally soaring language bogs down. There is endless talk of the seduction plot and about the characters of all involved. And time drones on. The play runs nearly three hours. NFL football games should be three hours, not backstairs suburban Windsor trysts. By the end of the first act you really do not know what is going on.

Act two starts off far better. The targeted women plot to hustle Falstaff in, and out, of the bedroom and different men arrive and leave. The first half of the second act is very funny. David Andrew Macdonald as Sir John Falstaff is wonderful. Then you slide down the hill into the second half of the second act. For some reason, everybody in the story decides to meet in the dark and foreboding forest at midnight to carry off the final scene. They couldn’t find a tavern, a Seven Eleven store? Off they go and stumble and around. Then there is the grand finale, where everybody should say good bye in thirty seconds. Oh no. Shakespeare has them prattling one for a good ten minutes. Uggh.

Worse, you do not learn anything about British history or life in the late 1500s / 1600s. There are a few veiled references to the monarchy, but there is nothing else about work, social customs, village life or what is going on in the world. It is supposed to be a look at life in Shakespeare’s time, but you learn little.

The play’s director, Bonnie J. Monte, does a good job of handling the confusing action and the actors in it are quite skilled. It is Shakespeare’s play that is the problem. It is too complicated and ends badly. This is one the Bard should have sat down and rewritten somewhere between Hamlet and Macbeth.

Director Monte gets fine performances from Macdonald as Falstaff, Jonathan Finnegan as Abraham Slender. Rachel Felstein as Anne Page, Caralyn Kozlowski and Alice Ford and others in a large cast.

PRODUCTION: The play is produced by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Scenic Design: Jonathan Wentz, Lighting: Tony Galaska, Costumes: Yao Chen, Sound: Bonnie J. Monte. The play is directed by Ms. Monte. It runs through December 27.

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