Well, it took me just over three weeks but I finally made it. In my defense, I’m often pretty slow out of the gate when it comes to seeing Ottawa’s touring park shows…They’re just about the only game in town for two solid months, and I can’t resist the subconscious urge to stretch them out as much as I can. But I DID try and see this one a couple weeks ago, I swear! All I can say is Glabar Park is NOT where google maps told me it was (although apparently I was close).
But fortunately, even a dim stooge like myself can find Strathcona Park on a clear day, ad the weather was poifect this Monday for a trip down Laurier to where A Company of Fools were celebrating the second anniversary of their tenth anniversary of summer Shakespeare shows with their latest, THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. Directed by the ever wonderful Catriona Leger and featuring Billy Shakes’ most memorable rogue sir John Falstaff at his bawdy best, this underseen bit of bard was prime fodder for the Fools treatment. Thee show features a giddily talented cast of familiar faces like Simon Bradshaw, Melanie Karin Brown, Katie Ryerson, John Doucet and Geoff McBride, along with first-time fool Matthew John Lundvall, subbing in as Falstaff himself for the originally-cast Chris Ralph, who has gone off to open a new theatre school or some such.
Our tale finds randy sir John newly arrived in Windsor, and already robbing people blind and trying to seduce their wives. Specifically, mistresses Page and Ford (Melanie Karin-Brown and Katie Ryerson), who immediately see through his attempts and plot some serious revenge. The only hitch is Ford’s jealous husband (John Doucet), who adopts a disguise to infiltrate Falstaff’s inner circle and glean the truth, although he somehow manages to get it wrong more often than not. Meanwhile, the Pages’ young daughter Anne (Katie Ryerson again) is being promised to two highly unsuitable suitors, dull Slender (Melanie again) and fire-tempered Doctor Caius (Simon Bradshaw), while her true love Fenton (Doucet again, stealing the show in a Keanu Reeves impression that HAS to be seen) is shut out. Amidst this, duels are nearly fought (between Caius and nervous Parson Evans, aka Geoff McBride), messages are passed between Falstaff and the scheming wives via robust Ms. Quickly (McBride again), fairies are summoned, beatings are given and merry is indeed had by all.
It almost feel redundant to write up a Fools park show, as the gang has it down to a pretty awesome science (or magic, more like) by now. Plenty of amazing and hilarious character work from the Foolish entourage to entertain even the most jaded audience…I dearly loved Melanie Karin Brown’s dull-witted Slender, and Katie Ryerson’s jittery old Justice Shallow, among their other great moments. Simon Bradshaw continues to be absolute comic gold on any stage…his Doctor Caius was a serious highlight, and I use ‘serious’ in the loosest sense here.Geoff McBride alternates nicely between upright Evans and borderline floozy Quickly. And Matthew Lundvall makes a memorable Falstaff, cowardly and boastful often in the same breath. All of this talent under the direction of Miz Leger is almost too good to be true, but here we are. There are tons of high points in this absolute sure-fire crowd pleaser of a show, and it’s easy to see why the Fools are enjoying the longevity they so richly deserve. Ottawa is lucky to have this gang, and the next time they’re in your neighbourhood, for Heaven’s sake stop on by. Check their website for parks and dates, you still have plenty of time left to get in on the fun. But don’t dawdle, because you might want to see it a second time. It’s worth it. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)