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Shakespeare Festival rolls out Merry Wives of Windsor

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So, what do you get when you blend together nostalgic tunes, '50s and '60s American apparel and William Shakespeare? If your answer is A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, guess again!

No, no--this time the Beatles have been replaced by the likes of Bill Haley and The Clovers, while the outrageous attire is something right out of a Leave it to Beaver episode or a Doris Day movie. It's still Shakespeare, of course, only this time in the guise of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Happily, this show--while reminiscent of the Shakespeare Festival's recently staged and hugely popular Midsummer--stands on its own merits as a riotous outing from start to finish.

Director Sari Ketter has set the show in 1950s Windsor, Connecticut. It's summertime, and where would our hero Falstaff and company be expected to be enjoying the warmth and sunshine? Why at the city's luxurious Howard Johnson's hotel, of course (here, disguised as the Garter Resort)! Bright orange and green colors dominate both the set and set-changing hotel staff to hilarious affect.

But wait--maybe you're unfamiliar with Merry Wives, arguably one of the more rewarding Shakespeare comedies. The plot's pretty simple: The central character, Falstaff (Steve Tague), is a slovenly, but mostly harmless scoundrel, who decides to woo the wives of two wealthy townsmen in an attempt to steal their money. The wives, Mistress Alice Ford (Kathryn Cherasaro) and Mistress Margaret Page (Lynn Allison), quickly discover what Falstaff's up to and plot to make a fool of him.

Further shenanigans ensue when Alice's husband, Frank (Tom Ford, looking uncannily like a young Bob Hope) discovers what Falstaff is up to and, thinking Alice is going along with it, makes something of a fool of himself by visiting Falstaff in disguise to find out what he and his wife are up to.

There is much about this show to commend it. It's well-paced, the costumes are first-rate (check out those high heels and colorful dresses on the ladies) and the music fits nicely. Careful listeners might even detect snippets of the themes to I Love Lucy and Dragnet popping up among the merriment.

The actors, of course, give mostly terrific performances. Tague's clueless Falstaff is a delight throughout the three-hour tour, but the real standout is Ford, whose physical pratfalls steal away some of Tague's boisterous thunder.

Christina Lang stands out as MistresQuickly, the sassy housekeeper to Dr. Caius--a buffoonish French physician wooing the Ford's daughter Anne Page (Carie Yonekawa). Jon Conley Golden, sporting a nice French accent, reins in his Fool Squad persona somewhat to give Caius a comedic presence that's not too over-the-top. It's a nice change from many of Golden's previous Festival roles.

Gordon Reinhart delivers many laughs as the always-cheery owner of the Garter Resort, while both Cherasaro and Allison successfully convey equal moments of frivolity as the merry wives.

Only longtime Festival player Tom Willmorth seems miscast in the role of young school teacher, Slender, another pursuer of Anne Page. While Willmorth's silliness is always fun to watch, he seems almost too old for the part.

Both Willmorth and Golden, though, are at their finest in the very funny Green Show preceding Merry Wives. As congressmen heading up the House UnAmerican Shakespeare Committee, they manage to find fault with everything from Lollapalooza to the newly christened Taco Bell Arena. The pair's impersonations of personalities such as Jim Nabors, Jimmy Stewart, Charlton Heston and Katharine Hepburn are a welcome treat.

The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare, directed by Sari Ketter

July 14, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, Aug. 7, 8, 10, 11, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27

Idaho Shakespeare Festival, 5645 Warm Springs Ave. More info/tickets: 336-9221, www.idahoshakespeare.org

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