Saturday, June 25, 2016

Stand by your show

Bard revisits South Detroit
by Christopher Key

Let’s cut to the chase: get your tickets for Merry Wives of Windsor at Bard on the Beach right now.  You’ll hate yourself if you miss this huge plate of poutine and I don’t want you blaming me.

This production debuted on Bard’s Douglas Campbell Studio Stage in 2012 and created a sensation that demanded a reprise.  So Johnna Wright’s Jessie Award-winning adaptation is on the BMO Mainstage this year and the Big Top can barely hold it.

Photo credit - David Blue

It’s 1968 and it’s open mic night at The Garter Inn, where the Windsor, Ontario, in crowd comes to scoot their boots.  The hair is big, there’s a moose head above the bar and on tap, and an expat Brit with a suspicious title is about to experience justice, Canadian style.

Photo credit - David Blue

Ashley Wright reprises his role as Sir John Falstaff from the previous production and he’s a laundry basket full of fun.  Watch for his scenes with Scott Bellis as Ford and you’ll see two masters at play.

Photo credit - David Blue

Sir John sets out to seduce Mistresses Meg Page and Alice Ford and seriously underestimates these unsophisticated colonials.  Katey Wright and Amber Lewis play the bored housewives who sing “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” at open mic night and Sir John should have listened to the words.

At the center of the plots and counter-plots is the infallible Jennifer Lines, whose interpretation of Mistress Quickly is nothing short of definitive.  Anton Lipovetsky leads the house band, all of whom are cast members and all of whom could have had careers as musicians.

Ben Elliott plays the keyboard and demonstrates a physicality as Slender that will leave you gasping.  David Marr as Justice Shallow and Andrew McNee as Pastor Hugh Evans put both the law and the church in their respective places with great élan.

The simple fact is that the cast has way too much fun with this show and they bring the audience right along with them.  You’ll be amazed that people actually get paid for enjoying themselves this much and things might get a bit interactive, especially if you’re sitting in the front row.

Costume Designer Drew Facey has an eye for the eye-bending combinations of colors and patterns that characterized the era.  Pam Johnson’s set, so forbidding in Romeo and Juliet, gets thoroughly warmed up as the interior of The Garter.  Yes, there is a disco ball, though they probably weren’t called that in 1968.

This version of Merry Wives is an ideal production for that Bardophobe in the family who thinks she hates Shakespeare and a guaran-damn-teed cure for those of us forced to read Julius Caesar in 10th grade.  Have I mentioned that Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read?  Go to!

The Merry Wives of Windsor performs in repertory with Romeo and Juliet in the mainstage tent at Vancouver’s lovely Vanier Park through September 24.  The full schedule is available at the Bard on the Beach website, along with ticketing options.

If you’re not standing, stomping your feet and clapping in rhythm for the curtain call, check your vital signs.  You might be dead, eh?

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