Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Merry Wives of Windsor
New Mexico Shakespeare Festival
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Carole's recent review of The Tempest

Aleah Montano, Eddie Dethlefs,
Janine O'Neill-Loffelmacher, Caedmon Holland,
and Clifton Chadwick

Photo by Broken Chain Photography
It has long been assumed that the reason Shakespeare wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor, now being presented at New Mexico Shakespeare Festival, is that Queen Elizabeth I wanted to see another play with Falstaff in it. She enjoyed the character in the two Henry IV plays so much that she asked Shakespeare to write a play with Falstaff as the lead. One could not say no to the queen, so he came up with The Merry Wives of Windsor, the only one of his plays with what appears to have a wholly original plot, not derived from history or some previous work of fiction. Like many works of art that are commissioned instead of inspired, it's not that great.

But did Shakespeare actually write it? In what must be an act of cosmic synchronicity, the very day before I saw this New Mexico Shakespeare Festival production, there appeared on my phone an article from The Guardian titled "The Merry Wives of Windsor offers strong evidence that Shakespeare was not its author." Co-authored by Derek Jacobi, no less, a patron of the De Vere Society. Why did this particular article show up? It was not emailed or texted to me. I had not mentioned it within range of the phone. I had not looked up anything about the play, although I might have looked at the New Mexico Shakespeare Festival website. It's a little spooky.

Jacobi and his co-author Margo Anderson claim that the familiarity with the town of Windsor displayed in the play could only have been acquired by someone who lived there for a while. Edward de Vere did; Shakespeare did not. They also claim that the characters of Fenton, Ford, and Falstaff are all aspects of de Vere's personality at various times in his life. De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, courted and eventually married and divorced one Anne Cecil, a rich prospect, who in the play becomes Anne Page. They adduce other circumstantial evidence. Maybe they're right and maybe that's why the play is considered one of the lesser plays in the Shakespeare canon. Its main virtue nowadays is that it inspired Giuseppe Verdi's last opera, Falstaff, considered one of his best.

I want to put in a plug here for the great but not well-known Orson Welles movie Chimes at Midnight, also sometimes titled Falstaff, released in 1965. By that time, Welles had grown into the part of Falstaff in more ways than one. He himself considered it one of his best films, maybe his favorite. If you want to see the best parts of the Henry IV plays, they're here. And Welles was wise enough not to include anything from Merry Wives.

I know I'm being hard on Merry Wives. There are good things in it, but it needs to be judiciously–and ruthlessly–abridged. There are more characters than there need to be. The subplot about the three contenders for the hand of the wealthy Anne Page could be streamlined. It gets a little tiresome to see Falstaff be humiliated repeatedly, even though he brings it upon himself. And in this day of avoiding fat-shaming, the frequent references to his paunchiness (some of which he makes himself) seem excessive.

All that being said, I nevertheless enjoyed this production directed by Micah Linford. Based on the accents used, it is set not in England but in jazz age America, which allows for elegant costuming and songs like "Let's Misbehave" and "Minnie the Moocher," both of which are perfect for the play. Once the plot gets going, which takes a while, it moves swiftly enough. Shakespeare (or Edward de Vere) took it for granted that the audience would already be familiar with Sir John Falstaff: his obesity, his prodigious alcohol intake, his carousing, his penury, and his unstoppable ego. The only thing he has going for him is that "Sir" before his name, and he plies it to his advantage as much as he can. He woos two well-to-do ladies at the same time. The complication is that the two women are friends and quickly catch on to Falstaff's deceit. How does he get his comeuppance? That's the rest of the story.

Clifton Chadwick (Falstaff), Bill Berg (Master Ford), Janine O-Neill (Mistress Ford), Aleah Montano (Mistress Page), and Fawn Hanson (Mistress Quickly) have the biggest parts, and they all do fine work. They are very ably supported by Eddie Dethlefs, Lauren Albonico (too long absent from the stage), Rachel Lindsay Thompson-Davis, Tait Petersen (doing an almost incomprehensible but fun French accent), Patrick W. Hale, Caedmon Holland, Bridget S. Dunne, Graydon Clarke (looking very hedge fund-ish), Vincent Kirby, Aodan Luther-Salazar, and Myles Hughes.

There are a couple of things that bugged me a little. Why does Justice Shallow have a Southern accent? No one else does. I know this is a low budget production, but why does everyone wear exactly the same clothes throughout the entire play? It would be funnier if Falstaff, after having been dumped out of a laundry basket into the Thames River (which is not in America, by the way), shows up in the next scene looking bedraggled, but instead he looks as dapper as ever in the same cream-colored suit he had on before. One other thing: the microphones on some actors cut in and out. This seems to be a chronic problem in outdoor performances, so maybe there is no easy solution.

These are minor quibbles. Overall, Micah Linford and the cast and crew have mounted a charming and amusing performance of a less than perfect Shakespeare (maybe) play. If the weather is good, you can't beat seeing Shakespeare outdoors in the summer. Best of all, it's free. New Mexico is lucky to have one of the few remaining free Shakespeare festivals in the country.

The Merry Wives of Windsor, presented by the New Mexico Shakespeare Festival, runs through July 6, 2024, at Veterans Memorial Park, 1100 Louisiana Blvd SE, and at Winrock Town Center Park, 2100 Louisiana Blvd NE, Albuquerque NM. For tickets and information, please visit