News Column

Local troupe staging 'Merry Wives of Windsor'

May 8, 2014

By Gail McCarthy, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.

May 08--When local actor Ray Jenness played Sir John Falstaff in a 400-year-old comedy by William Shakespeare, he never heard so much laughter from an audience.

He will reprise that role in the zany "The Merry Wives of Windsor," which opens tonight, produced by the Cape Ann Shakespeare Troupe at the Gorton Theatre in Gloucester. The show runs Thursday through Sunday for two weekends.

Jenness played the corpulent knight Falstaff with a Vermont theater company at a Shakespeare in the Park event.

"It's just so hilarious and farcical and kind of harmless," he said. "The audience knows exactly what's going on, and everybody is quite foolish, and everyone lives happily ever after."

The two "merry wives" -- Mistress Page and Mistress Ford -- are played by Annegret Reimer and Linda Stiegler, both of Rockport.

Jenness explained that this play was supposedly written because Queen Elizabeth liked the character of Falstaff, a wordsmith who prides himself on his vocabulary.

"It is said that she wanted to see a version of Falstaff in love ­-- and love is not on Falstaff's agenda. But finding a way to get money is. So he is going to milk the ladies for their husbands' money. He uses all sorts of three-syllable words. It's very musical," said Jenness. "It's thrilling when you get it right and get those words all lined up in order.

In this play, Falstaff arrives in Windsor and finds himself in need of money. He attempts to woo the "merry wives" who he believes have control over their husbands' wealth. But when the two women friends discover that Falstaff sent them each an identical love letter, they decide to play a few tricks of their own.

"It is a very funny play. The more I read it, the more I realized it is a sit-com like 'I Love Lucy,' 'Mary Tyler Moore' and "The Dick van Dyke Show' rolled into one," said Joseph Stiliano, who will direct the cast of 18 actors.

Stiliano said he has given this production a 1950s flavor through the costuming because the play made him think of all those Doris Day-Rock Hudson-type comedy movies of that era.

"The women are aghast that Falstaff would send such a letter because they are married women and aghast that he would think they'd run off with a fat knight," said Stiliano. "So the women encourage him and then abruptly discourage him in an embarrassing way -- three times. He's so vain and greedy that he doesn't really see what's going on."

One husband is not concerned about these antics, but another is worried about whether his wife is really going to have this affair with Falstaff. That jealous husband is played by Carl Thomsen of Essex, known on Cape Ann for his dance drama pieces, and his work in the local schools.

There is a subplot concerning Mistress Page's daughter; she want to get married but her parents each have a different idea about who would make her ideal husband: a maniacal rich French doctor, played by Jeph Ellis, with a Pink Panther-like French accent; or Master Slender, who has money but is an idiot. The daughter wants to marry a nice fellow who is poor, explained Stiliano.

Other "wacky denizens" of Windsor are played by other local troupe favorites: Donald Roby, Ashlee Holm, Daria Whittaker, Timothy Edwards, Jim Robinson, Kyle Gregory, David Cluett, Patrick Cheney, Kevin Lee, Aynsley Sutherland, Madeleine Harlan, and Rodney Dahlgren.

Stiliano noted that "The Merry Wives of Windsor" departs from the usual Shakespeare plot because it does not contain any royal or aristocratic characters.

"Indeed, this is his only work in which all of the people who scamper about in this 400-year-old sitcom are commoners -- not a duke, duchess, lord or princess in the lot," he said.

Jenness said the local Shakespeare troupe works hard to make the bard's word accessible to all audience members.

"Shakespeare really is a man for all time," he said. "We hope we present it in a way that you don't have to be a Shakespeare scholar to enjoy it."

Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-675-2706, or at

Shakespeare on stage

What: "The Merry Wives of Windsor" by William Shakespeare.

When: Opening tonight, May 8. Show times are May 8, 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17, at 8 p.m.; and May 11 and 18 at 3 p.m.

Where: Gorton Theatre (home of the Gloucester Stage Company) at 267 E. Main St.

How much: $15 general admission, $10 student, and $5 youth under 19 and may be purchased at the door or reserved at Mothers get in free on Mother's Day.

Details: Visit or


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Source: Gloucester Daily Times (MA)

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