Don’t fear Shakespeare. Spumoni-ice-cream colors, lawn-dart head ornaments, a mish-mash of retro clothing, a doctor who looks like Hitler but speaks with a French accent, ukuleles, and a bubble-gum-blowing, hula-hooping object of desire. These people are pros. You will get it, and you will laugh your ass off while doing it.
Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project brings together a collection of thespians that includes renowned Indianapolis-theater favorites for a non-standard staging of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which they have tagged as “the original Desperate Housewives.” Anchoring the cast and crew is director Bill Simmons, who hits a ringer with his premiere shot at directing a Shakespearian play.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is considered one of The Bard’s weaker plays, which means nothing but fun with few bothersome moral lessons for audiences. As with most of his comedies, it involves mistaken identity, practical jokes, and love—both bawdy and true. Reset from its original location of Windsor Castle to the Windsor Hotel, Falstaff (Adam O. Crowe), also seen in two Henry IV plays, needs a sugar mamma, so he tries his luck with two married women who also happen to be best friends, Mistress Ford (Amy Hayes) and Mistress Page (Claire Wilcher). Concurrently, the Page family is trying to marry off their daughter, Ann (Chelsea Anderson), but Mistress Page favors Dr. Caius (Gari Williams) and Page (Josh Ramsey) prefers Slender (Kelsy VanVoorst). (In a nod to Shakespearian time, when men playing women was the norm, here women often play men.) Ann, however, wants Fenton (Benjamin Schuetz).
The characters’ machinations toward each other make for uproarious scenes. Saturday night, Rob Johansen, as Ford, gave “chewing scenery” a whole new meaning by deflowering Hayes’s ears in his enthusiasm (his passionate kiss knocked her floral earrings right off). His physical comedy knows no limits—even when it comes to personal space. Crowe is spot-on as the bellowing Falstaff, gamely throwing himself into a “buck basket” (laundry bin) or fleeing the scene of his (continuously) unlucky rendezvous disguised in women’s clothing. Hayes and Wilcher are thick as BFFs in their scheming, with copious underhanded help from Carrie Schlatter as Mistress Quickly. Really, each cast member is top-notch here. I could easily run down the program and give out individual accolades if I had the space.
Sets and costumes deserve a quick mention as well, from Sara White and Peachy Kean Costuming, respectively.
I don’t give out five-star reviews willy-nilly. This show sincerely deserves it.