This is part of Indy Bard Fest 2022, the annual Indianapolis area Shakespeare Festival. For information and tickets, visit indybardfest.com.
By John Lyle Belden
It is said that Queen Elizabeth I was quite taken with the character of Sir John Falstaff in William Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” (Parts I and II). This merry prankster would end up as much the butt of the joke as the instigator, and helps humanize Prince Hal, the eventual King Henry V. So, legend goes, Her Majesty ordered Shakespeare to whip up a play featuring the bawdy knight in love.
The result, by whatever origin, is “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” now presented at the IndyFringe Theatre, directed by Jeff Bick. The comedy is presented in an over-the-top style that common folk who paid a penny to see a show around the year 1600 would have loved. Sir John (Thomas Sebald), who appears to have a beach ball for a belly, is less interested in “sack” wine and more contemplating what middle-aged women he can get in the sack, so to speak.
This production focuses on two comic plotlines. True to the Bard’s penchant for including a wedding in his comedies, young beauty Anne Page (Sophie Peirce) is being wooed by three men: Slender (Ben Elliot), the doltish son of Justice Swallow (Michael Bick), who in turn is friends with Anne’s dad, Master Page (Tom Smith); the very French doctor Caius (Rian Capshew), who has the approval of Mistress Page (Dana Lesh); and young gentleman Fenton (Connor Phelan), whom Anne comes to prefer despite his having the lightest purse.
The other source of drama and mirth is, of course, Falstaff. He covets not one man’s wife, but two, and sends his squire Robin (Lyndsi Wood) with identical letters to Mistress Page and Mistress Ford (Kelly BeDell). The women being best friends, this attempted courtship will backfire in spectacular fashion. Master Page has no doubt his headstrong wife can take care of herself, but Master Ford (John Johnson) is more wary, and goes to Falstaff disguised as fellow lothario “Brook” to get in on the plot.
“Hilarity ensues” is putting it mildly. Much boisterous laughter was had throughout the audience. Adding to the fun in supporting roles are Angela Dill as busily devious servant Mistress Quickly and Ryan Shelton as thick-tongued Welsh vicar Sir Hugh Evans. Other servants are portrayed by Colby Rison, Nelani Huntington, Carolyn Jones and Patrick Lines.
Sebald ably plays the buffoon under the delusion of dignity. Lesh and Bedell are the stars here, with Lucy-and-Ethel chemistry as they gain the upper hand on all the men. Johnson is goofy fun, letting himself be the second-biggest fool on the stage.
And the antics of the Falstaff plot eventually work to resolve the romantic storyline. Shakespeare’s clever like that.
For an evening of silly fun – which includes, just in time for Halloween, a spooky Faerie encounter – meet the Merry Wives this Friday through Sunday, Oct. 28-30, at 719 E. St. Clair St., Indianapolis.