Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Mirth crackles in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ in Baileys Harbor

Critic At Large

Door Shakespeare

Sir John Falstaff (Mark Corkins) is about to be caught in a trap set by Mistress Alice Ford (Allie Babich, left) and Mistress Margaret Page (Amy Ensign, in partial view) in the Door Shakespeare production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” (Company photo)


John Falstaff got nabbed again last night. VUI – Vanity Under the Influence.

I don’t know how many times he’s been stopped. Thousands upon thousands.

Mostly, it’s for what he is up to in “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” He’s been trying to make merry with two wives for four centuries. The laughs are on him. That’s why those wives are merry.

The wives lead Falstaff on. His fat head and fat belly keep getting in the way of his supposed manly allure. Ya right. He is as much a sexpot as Porky the Pig.

Three times in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” Falstaff ends up with people laughing out loud at his folly fed by hubris – an inflated view of self. Falstaff is such a human hot air balloon.

But Falstaff keeps coming back – VUI.

Keeps getting caught.

Dumb cluck.

But is he funny!

Sir John Falstaff is one of the favorite comic characters in the rogue’s gallery of William Shakespeare, and there are plenty.

There is another one in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” – Frank Ford. Jealousy is his undoing.

Falstaff & Ford. Sounds like a vaudeville duo. They don’t sing or dance or tell jokes. The jokes are on them.

In the Door Shakespeare production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” the two are portrayed by experts who are somewhat in a league of their own in skills with comedic capers.

Falstaff is portrayed by Mark Corkins, who huffs and puffs a lot as he plays on Falstaff’s girth and prodigious porcine poundage. Like Falstaff’s size, there is much more to his characterizations – a ton of nuance and expression and grandiose-oscity.

Ford is portrayed by Matt Daniels, a walking encyclopedia of comedic expression finesse. One minute of watching his face, coupled with body English, is like a Fourth of July fireworks finale in all the different wondrous flashes they offer.

And there these guys are to be had – wood chips beneath their feet, monolithic maple tree above their head – doing their magnificent stuff outdoors in the special atmosphere that is Door Shakespeare.

These guys are the icing on a cake that includes spunky, smart direction by Marcella Kearns and abundant lively touches.

To summarize Shakespeare’s plotting is akin to describing the innards of a rocket ship. The piece has to do with marriage and love and foolish attempts to tip each.

In concept, Marcella Kearns dresses the yarn in the present. Costumes are current, with the husbands’ suits super-tailored and the footwear of the main males particularly guy-jaunty and quality-crafted.

Being a comedy, action is lively. But there are special touches of physicality. Some of the male entrances (a running roll across the stage) and exits (flying leaps from the raised stage) show a bit of bravado.

The “show” starts with music. Four women sing the folky, original “Whenever you’re in Windsor, you’re at home.” The performance closes with the entire cast, many bearing instruments, capping things off with a joyous song.

Acting is laced with keenly wrought interaction. Key are the wives, vividly expressed by Allie Babish as Mistress Ford and Amy Ensign as Mistress Page. Ensign also is Door Shakespeare’s managing director, so she is doing double duty (plus).

Much meshes in the company’s presentation, assisted by spotlight touches by Carrie Hitchcock as the calculating Mistress Quickly, James Carrington as the oh-so-flexible husband George Page and Dan Klarer as quirky Welsh pastor Sir Hugh Evans, who is not so nifty but highly comical with a broadsword.

Step back, and this piece has the aura of being honed and honed over centuries. Everything is tightly interlocking, and this company grabs hold of the finessing.

For me, experiencing Falstaff always makes me smile for the reminder of a place in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, where a huge Shakespeare Festival is held every year. The city has named many buildings for Shakespeare’s characters. What for the vainglorious, pandering, drunkardly Falstaff? A building that once carried his name as a school, now repurposed to the Falstaff Family Centre.


Creative: Playwright – William Shakespeare; director – Marcella Kerns; costume designer – Kim Instenes; scenic and properties designer – Jody Sekas; music director/composer – Scott McKenna Campbell; lighting designer – Todd Mion; fight director – Dan Klarer; production stage manager – Kira Neighbors; assistant stage manager – Camille C. Nierengarten; producing artistic director – Michael Stebbins; managing director – Amy Ensign


(At the Garter Inn)

Host – Eric Schabla

Sir John Falstaff – Mark Corkins

Robin – Luke Brotherhood

“Corporal” Bardolph – Jarrod Langwinski

“Ancient” Pistol – Michael Herold

Corporal Nym – Ken Miller

Robert Shallow – Scott McKenna Campbell

Abraham Slender – Elliott Brotherhood

Peter Simple – Mikkel Knutson

Fenton – Ken Miller

(Townspeople of Windsor)

George Page – James Carrington

Mistress Margaret Page – Amy Ensign

Anne Page – Elyse Edelman

Frank Ford – Matt Daniels

Mistress Alice Ford – Allie Babich

John – Mikkel Knutson

Robert – Emily Holland

Sir Hugh Evans – Dan Klarer

Doctor Caius – Jarrod Langwinski

Mistress Quickly – Carrie Hitchcock

John Rugby – Emily Holland

Running time: Two hours, 33 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. July 1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, 19, 22, 24, 26, 29, 31, Aug. 2, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 23

Info: doorshakespeare.com

ALSO: “Henry V,” presented in rotation by many of the same players.


THE VENUE: The Door Shakespeare theater space is outdoors at Bjorklunden, a 425-acre estate on the shore of Lake Michigan south of Baileys Harbor on the east side of Door County. The performance area is a limestone-lined patch of wood chips beneath a majestic, eye-catching 70-foot maple tree with shaggy bark. For “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” performance entrances and exits are along aisles, from areas stage left or stage right and from two-story staircase and balcony surrounding the tree. The seating configuration accommodates about 160 is on three platforms arcing around the performance space. This site was used in the past by Door Shakespeare; the seating faced the opposite way toward a grove of cedars in recent years. The theater is about a mile of winding road off of Highway 57. Bjorklunden is owned by Lawrence University of Appleton, though Door Shakespeare is a stand-alone entity.

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