SALT LAKE CITY — I am predisposed to like Shakespearean comedies, live acoustic music, and imposing architecture. Last night, the Grassroots Shakespeare Company pulled off a trifecta with their production of The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Salt Lake Masonic Temple.
The Masonic Temple pulls together elements of Egyptian, Italian Renaissance, Colonial American, and 14th century English architecture, and the cozy wood paneled room used for last night’s performance quite naturally transported me to a bygone time and place. Before the play, we were treated to the musical talents of Karlie McKinnon and Paul Timothy, whom I was instantly excited to gush about. I’d describe Karlie’s voice and style as “Zooey Deschanel meets Ingrid Michaelson,” and saying she has an equal in Paul’s harmonies and accompaniment is one of the best compliments I can give. I’d never before attended a play with an opening musical act, but I’ll call it a stroke of genius on Grassroots Shakespeare’s part because it put me in a cheery mood before the play even began.
Commence The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which Shakespeare’s contemporary middle class (his only play set in the time period it was written, FYI) attain love, laughs, and money. Sir Hugh Evans (Kyle Oram) is a Welsh priest who wants to get a fellow named Slender (William Kalmar) married to the wealthy Anne Page (Heather Murdock). The French Dr. Caius (Greg Larsen) is also contending for her hand. Mistress Page (Katie Sullivan) and Master Page (Levi Brown) each favor different suitors, but, to their dismay, Anne has her heart set on the impoverished Fenton (Kyle Oram, again).
At the same time, Falstaff (Daniel Anderson) moves to the neighborhood, with a get-rich-quick plan of wooing wealthy married women. The only problem is, in junior high-style, he sends best friends Mistress Page and Mistress Ford (Caitlin Webb) identical notes. Hijinks ensue, and the hilarity deepens when husbands (Mark Oram plays Master Ford) get involved.
Every member of the cast was fantastic, which is saying a lot since several of them played multiple parts and genders. I could watch Levi Brown’s Mistress Quickly all day and never stop laughing. (I’ll admit that I liked him better as a woman than a man.) Katie Sullivan and Caitlin Webb were a delight as the conspiring wives of Windsor: their coquettish jocularity was instantly believable as they schemed to humiliate all the men in their lives. And Daniel Anderson’s Falstaff was the perfect lovable dupe as he was amiably persuaded into basket, gown, and forest by each of the wives’ successive pranks. Even though I was initially frustrated by their thick Welsh and French accents, Greg Larsen and Kyle Oram quickly won me over with both their sincerity and excellent comic timing as priest and doctor—I checked the script afterward, by the way, and it turns out Shakespeare wrote those parts nearly incomprehensibly. Do yourself a favor and just laugh rather than straining too hard to understand those two—Shakespeare didn’t really mean for you to know what they’re saying all the time.
The show was delightful under any circumstances and especially impressive considering that it was produced on a short time frame without a director or costume staff. Any liberties with interpretation (It is, of course, possible that Shakespeare didn’t intend a heterosexual take on Slender; either way, William Kalmar was fabulous.) were appreciated and well executed.
Rather than distracting, the makeshift set and costumes created a mood of familiarity. This mood was helped along by the background accordion, (something else I’m predisposed to like), guitar, and percussion brought to us by Nicole and Karyn Allen, Aubrey Bench, and Collin Thomas. The holiday atmosphere (garlands, wreathes, and carols abounded) and audience interaction increased the feeling that this was our Elizabethan English Parlour and we were enjoying the holidays with some good, and very funny, friends.