Arc Theatre's Merry Wives of Windsor is the perfect antidote to overly-serious Shakespeare | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Arc Theatre's Merry Wives of Windsor is the perfect antidote to overly-serious Shakespeare 

Everything operates on a recognizably human scale.

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Derek Jepsen

Is it just me, or do you often walk out of a significantly bankrolled (and thus terribly important) Shakespeare production, one over which a preponderance of critics has raved, and think to yourself, What on earth was all that? Did those actors understand anything they were saying? Who told them to get perpetually worked up over everything? And for God's sake, why did no one on that stage remind me of anyone I might encounter in real life?

After 30-plus years covering the local performance scene, where Shakespeare's plays are rendered humorless and incomprehensible with dispiriting regularity, I should dread the Bard by now. Then along come scrappy little troupes like the Arc Theatre, who treat Shakespeare's texts as scripts to be played rather than masterworks to be exalted. Everything in the Arc's decidedly low-budget outdoor summer productions, plunked down on an unforgiving patch of concrete in Evanston's Ridgeville Park, operates on a recognizably human scale, the actors making effortless sense of intricate Elizabethan language. Even without amplification, amid the acoustic clutter of traffic, airplanes, and children, everything is astonishingly clear.

And astonishingly fun this year, as director Mark Boergers transplants this shameless crowd-pleaser (an excuse to revive the drunk, overweight lech Sir John Falstaff from the Henry plays) to the Windsor Country Club, where idle white people have nothing better to do than scheme their ways in and out of love. It's regularly laugh-out-loud funny, especially when Teddy Boone as jealous Master Ford displays his noteworthy comedic chops.   v

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