The Merry Wives of Windsor” is a merry play indeed, a festively costumed jaunt whose theme can be summed up in a phrase: Don’t try to commit adultery. It’s that, or else there is no theme. Either way, the Utah Shakespearean Festival’s production of it is well-acted and light-hearted from beginning to end.
Dennis Robertson plays Sir John Falstaff, the debt-ridden fat knight who foolishly believes he is loved by two married women and so plans to woo them and get their husbands’ money. Robertson’s Falstaff is a man of low class, looking like a saggy-pantsed backwoodsman, the sort of guy you’d find making moonshine in the Ozarks. For as much as we like him, we like seeing him suffer from the pranks of the revenge-bent women even more.
The two women, Mistress Page (Corliss Preston) and Mistress Ford (Fredi Olster), are the commanding presence in this show. Preston and Olster exhibit great comic ability between them, mischievously plotting to embarrass the lustful Falstaff and making these women come across as two of Shakespeare’s best ladies.
Providing most of the rest of the laughs are Slender (David Ivers) and Doctor Caius (A. Bryan Humphrey), both in love with Page’s daughter Anne (Mary Dolson). Slender is a mis-named, malapropping Ed Grimley-type character, bumbling around foolishly but nonetheless gaining the favor of Anne’s father (Raymond L. Chapman). Caius is outrageously French, sounding (and even looking) a lot like John Cleese’s French taunter in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” He’s older, but he has money and is therefore favored by Anne’s mother as Anne’s future husband. Anne herself prefers the wealthy, soft-featured Fenton (Ben Cherry), though her feelings, as you might guess, are of little importance here.
The show falters only in the final scene, when Falstaff receives his final come-uppance and Anne gets married. Both events seem anti-climactic, as though the show ran out of energy before it got there. Anne’s side-plot, in particular, seems like it doesn’t even fit with the rest of the play.
Aside from that, though, the show remains a consistently amusing, often laugh-out-loud-funny affair. And, what’s more, no actual affairs ever take place.
An incident following the viewing of this play was featured prominently in a "Snide Remarks" column entitled "ShakesFest 2000."