A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.




 

The Wright Stuff - A Sackfull of Laughs
Wednesday, June 29, 2016



 
Johnna and Sacha Wright


The eminence that is Shakespearean scholar Harold Bloom in Shakespeare – The Invention of the Human, reduces Shakespeare’s less popular comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor to:

The tradition is that Shakespeare wrote the Merry Wives, perhaps between the two parts of Henry VI, in response to Queen Elizabeth’s request to show Sir John in love. Farce, natural to Shakespeare, dwindles into shallowness in Merry Wives, a tiresome exercise that I suspect the playwright revised from something older at hand, whether his own or another’s.  

Before I go to object with Bloom I want to place my attendance to the opening night, this past Friday, at Bard’s The Merry Wives of Windsor in perspective to the fact that I did so with my 18 year-old granddaughter (just about to emerge from Hades). The play, with none of the complexities of Shakespeare’s more serious plays was just right for her, and thus just right for me. We had a great time. She did a lot of foot stomping and so did I.

Why?

It has all to do with the vision of the Johnna Wright who lives in Saskatchewan. Without demeaning the idea of living in the prairies, she transformed the play into a not quite urban one set in Windsor, Ontario. (Luckily Shakespeare eliminated from the very beginning the title The Mary Wives of Etobicoke). It is set in 1968 which is just right to mine the plentiful experience of choreographer Valerie Easton who was a jazz dancer (an extremely good one) at the CBC in the later 70s. She danced to the tune (and they were present) of Paul Williams and Wolfman Jack. I know this because I was there.

Jackie Coleman, Paul Williams & Valerie Easton

Another factor in why Bard’s Merry Wives is so good is that the actors (and actresses, I am old-fashioned and I like that term) could earn their living as musicians and dancers, too. Who would have guessed that the formerly stodgy and serious David Marr (Justice Shallow) could play an electric guitar? 

Anton Lipovetsky, (host of the Garter Inn) can make his guitar sing and twang like the best and funny man Ben Elliot (Slender and he looks his part) is stalwart at keyboards and as Musical Director. Katey Wright (Mistress Meg Page) and Amber Lewis (Mistress Alice Ford) belted out These Boots are Made for Walking with gusto.

And I could not but mention that one of my fave comedian actresses (remember I am old-fashioned) Dawn Petten (as Simple) played an extremely serious cello. I have heard rumours that she is going to start a musical group called The Endpins.

Now actor Scott Bellis (Ford), channeled the Beat Poets and proves as I have always thought, that no play with that man can possibly be anything but very good. And of course he might have had the same guitar teacher as David Marr.

But the king of all these musical performances was Ashley Wright’s (Sir John Falstaff) who belted out a rockin’version of Ramblin’ Man. The version written by Dickey Betts for the Allman Brother’s Band has always been up there in my lists of American rock favourites. Kudos to Ben Elliott for this.

If you take the music away from the Bard play you have an extremely funny comedy left with all kinds of juicy revenges. I wonder how many of the average audiences of Bard are aware that most of the actors do double time. As an example Andrew Chown, an athletic and handsome Romeo in Bard’s Romeo and Juliet, plays an over-the-top Doctor Caius with a definite French-to-English language malfunction. In fact Andrew Chown, Ben Elliott and Andrew McNee (Pastor Hugh Evans) should appear in my favourite and most intelligent CBC Radio show, The Debaters.  And of course Hailey Gillis (Juliet in Romeo and Juliet) as Miss Anne Page is funny, too, and fortunately cannot hide her very nice legs.

During the interval I ran into director John Wright and asked him about his relation to all the other Wrights in Merry Wives. I know that director Johnna Wright is his daughter but it seems that Katey Wright is his daughter, too. He did not claim any relations to Ashley Wright. It is pure coincidence.

There was a character sitting not far from us dressed in a flaming red suit with a Western red shirt. His name is Chris Crud. It would seem that by some other name he may have been responsible in assisting Ben Elliot with the music.

With so much talent oozing out from all directions I recommend Merry Wives of Winsor to anybody wanting to enjoy Shakespeare with no catharsis. And it seems that on Wednesdays the stellar caramel popcorn may be discounted (I hope!).

To end this I must write about Jennifer Lines, who with David Marr has of late revealed a depth of talent that is unexpected ( to this amateur). It is not only her singing and her acting but how she moves in Merry Wives. She is terrific. I guess I must thank Valerie Easton for this bit of choreography. And thank you Ben Elliot for not asking Lines to play her accordion.  

Addendum: Before the play began I was sitting one one of the benches (many have been removed so there are fewer places to sit) with my Rebecca. I noticed some teenage students speaking in Spanish. One of the was called by another, "Alejandro". This enabled me to but in with "Eres mi tocayo," or "You are my namesake."  They were from Puerto Vallarta and they were at Bard for the preview of Othello. I decided to play smart and I asked the group if they knew of the only triangular square in Mexico. They did not know that Guanajuato's is indeed triangular. So my namesaked countered with, "What is Othello's last name?" I did know the answer. I was told it is Othello Hilton.



     

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11/15/15 - 11/22/15

11/22/15 - 11/29/15

11/29/15 - 12/6/15

12/6/15 - 12/13/15

12/13/15 - 12/20/15

12/20/15 - 12/27/15

12/27/15 - 1/3/16

1/3/16 - 1/10/16

1/10/16 - 1/17/16

1/31/16 - 2/7/16

2/7/16 - 2/14/16

2/14/16 - 2/21/16

2/21/16 - 2/28/16

2/28/16 - 3/6/16

3/6/16 - 3/13/16

3/13/16 - 3/20/16

3/20/16 - 3/27/16

3/27/16 - 4/3/16

4/3/16 - 4/10/16

4/10/16 - 4/17/16

4/17/16 - 4/24/16

4/24/16 - 5/1/16

5/1/16 - 5/8/16

5/8/16 - 5/15/16

5/15/16 - 5/22/16

5/22/16 - 5/29/16

5/29/16 - 6/5/16

6/5/16 - 6/12/16

6/12/16 - 6/19/16

6/19/16 - 6/26/16

6/26/16 - 7/3/16

7/3/16 - 7/10/16

7/10/16 - 7/17/16

7/17/16 - 7/24/16

7/24/16 - 7/31/16

7/31/16 - 8/7/16

8/7/16 - 8/14/16

8/14/16 - 8/21/16

8/21/16 - 8/28/16

8/28/16 - 9/4/16

9/4/16 - 9/11/16

9/11/16 - 9/18/16

9/18/16 - 9/25/16

9/25/16 - 10/2/16

10/2/16 - 10/9/16

10/9/16 - 10/16/16

10/16/16 - 10/23/16

10/23/16 - 10/30/16

10/30/16 - 11/6/16

11/6/16 - 11/13/16

11/13/16 - 11/20/16

11/20/16 - 11/27/16

11/27/16 - 12/4/16

12/4/16 - 12/11/16