Who knew that Shakespeare was such a feminist? Or is it Udi Ben Moshe? The Khan Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor is merry indeed, with a hilarious cast of characters, fun, fun, fun, retro costumes and soundtrack, and last, but not least, a win for the women.
Shakespeare’s play is a farce with many elements that became the staples of American screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s: the battle of the sexes, physical comedy, sight gags, wacky witty dialogue. The translation – ever so clever and very funny – is based on that of Nissim Aloni, and the adaptation streamlines the play to a whirlwind one and a half hours – not only that, but an entire character has been carefully excised from the story. This cut heightens one of the central plot lines, infusing this otherwise somewhat convoluted play with clarity and keeps the pace at a breathless clip.
Ben-Moshe delights the senses with an intoxicating work of theatre, effortlessly conveying the central themes while infusing new life into familiar tropes. There is a very marked distinction between men and women, the two almost inhabiting different realms. This is made abundantly clear, even to the most knavish amongst us, in the first few moments of the play as the red-nose brigade of men slide in, pretty much physically connected to the bar, singing the signature Liverpool football anthem circa 1963, beer mugs aloft. Then the music changes, becomes delicate, sweeping, flowing, and two women walk by in flowered dresses, talking non-stop.
The action is set in motion by the beloved Falstaff (Erez Shafrir), that portly imbiber of all things decadent. Yet let’s not forget that this is comedy, and there is no sign of the more tender qualities nor the anguish of the Falstaff one comes to know in the Henry plays. There is really nothing to admire in this knave who schemes to part wealthy wives, the fine Mistresses Page (Yael Tocker) and Ford (Irit Pashtan), from their money. Nothing perhaps, save his indestructible good humor, for which I heartily admire him.
Falstaff nimbly balances the endearing with the disgusting, Ford (Yehoyachin Friedlander) is the magnificently jealous and suspicious husband, Page (Yoav Hyman) is the genial guy who views his virginal beautiful daughter (Daniel Gal) as a commodity, while Parson Evans (Arie Tcherner) timidly tried to avoid trouble and fails, Judge Shallow (Yahav Gal) lives up to his name, Nym (Guy Gurevich) and Pistol (Jonathan Miller) are very cool aiders and abetters in their matching plaid jackets, Mistress Quickly (Odelyah Moreh-Matalon) will speed along any scheme that secures her some do-re-me, and the Host of the Garter Inn (David Ben Zeev) presides with traditional barman’s equanimity while delivering the show’s best sight gag. Mistresses Page and Ford are Falstaff’s formidable targets and Pashtan is a hoot as she elegantly fends off the amorous advances, while seizing the opportunity to get the upper hand of her doubting husband. As for the lovely Anne’s two suitors – Slender (Itai Szor) and Dr. Caius (Ariel Wolf) – they are both splendidly unsuitable.
Yes, it’s a large, ensemble cast – and they are all wonderfully funny! Ariel Wolf regaled me with his rendition of the foppish Caius, he is a prince of comic timing going from gentile fussiness to frenzy in the blink of an eye, and his verbal Frebrew mashup acrobatics were impeccably hilarious. Daniel Gal was more than beautiful, expressing a multitude of meaning without saying a word, and when she finally does speak, it’s well worth hearing.
The play has been set in modern times, in England of the early 60s, clearly before the sexual revolution. I cannot heap enough superlatives on the set, costumes and soundtrack! Director Udi Ben Moshe has a predilection for setting up an empty stage – and there the magic begins! It only looks empty, and Svetlana Breger has supplied the magic in spades. Brick walls and precisely designed doors supplying a sense of the era, things that slide, appear and disappear bring the magic. Judith Aharon’s costumes are bursting with creativity and thoughtfully designed with sensitive nuance. She knows when to go overboard, and when to hold back. There is such a fine distinction between the 60s era dresses of Mistresses Page and Ford, taking Page somewhere a bit more flirty with halter dresses, while Ford is more comme il faut, yet both are exceedingly feminine. The over-the-top, gender blurring costumes for Dr. Caius are simply sumptuous, from rose velvet sports jacket, to mauve vest with gray ruffle – lovely!
The soundtrack simply slayed me – bravo!
In the forest scene, with its echoes of Midsummer faery fun, the costumes, cast, and director (!) really go wild and what a wonderful way to get to the denouement!
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A comedy by William Shakespeare; based on the translation by Nissim Aloni; Adapted and directed by Udi Ben-Moshe; Set design: Svetlana Breger; Costume design: Judith Aharon; Lighting design: Roni Cohen; Music: Adi Cohen; Editing: Miriam Yahil-Wax; Cast: Yahav Gal – Shallow; Itai Szor – Slender; Arie Tcherner – Sir Hugh Evans; Yoav Hyman – George Page; Erez Shafrir – Sir John Falstaff; Jonathan Miller – Pistol, John; Guy Gurevich – Nym, Robert; Yael Tocker – Mistress Margaret Page; Irit Pashtan – Mistress Alice Ford; Daniel Gal – Anne Page; Odelya Moreh-Matalon – Mistress Quickly; Ariel Wolf – Doctor Caius; Yehoyachin Friedlander – Frank Ford; David Ben Zeev – Host of the Garter Inn.