Adultery, jealousy and revenge course through “The Merry Housewives of Windsor,” Shakespeare’s less-regarded and most hastily written play, like reality TV dramatics. Maybe a better title would be “The Merry Real Housewives of Windsor,” jokes Amy Waguespack, director of an Acting Up In Acadiana production of the comedy running this week at Acadiana Center for the Arts. The theater company is turning up the trashy themes, bawdy video selfies and all.
“We’re putting it in a lighter, sort of reality TV kind of feel to let us laugh at ourselves I hope,” she says. There will be a “Real Housewives”-esque intro to introduce the characters, and in between scenes the women will talk back to the camera in video testimonial tropes. Waguespack says she kept Shakespeare’s verse intact amid the contemporary changes, while also tightening the action.
“It’s very campy because the play itself has so many asides and soliloquies directly to the audience, and it’s got the most prose of any Shakespeare play,” she adds. “The language is still archaic, but it’s not the heightened verse.”
Waguespack resisted performing “The Merry Wives” for many years and has never seen it on stage herself, but when she revisited it more recently she saw the parallels to today’s world.
“It’s looking at the lives of men and women in what could be any town in England and the roles of women at the time,” she says. “They were struggling with Queen Elizabeth as a single woman ruler. We’re still looking at gender issues here in this time.”
Another timely theme that comes up is the idea of the “other,” which turned Waguespack off at first. Welsh and French characters in the play are mocked, while a Russian character proposes a bribe. “It’s still relevant today and, in the end, they get the best of the real asshole in the play,” she says.
That real asshole is Sir John Falstaff, who drives the story’s plot with his courting of two wealthy, yet married, women. He pursues mistresses Ford and Quickly for their money, but when their husbands find out, the jealous Mr. Ford goes undercover as “Mr. Brook” to try and discover Falstaff’s real intentions. Meanwhile, the women have a plan of their own and decide to get revenge on the overweight Falstaff by pretending to be interested in him.
“We’re playing the women as pretty much housewives,” explains Waguespack. “They have wealthy husbands and hang out in their backyards and are toting wine and mimosas back to each other, but they get the upper hand on the men in the tricks that they play.”
Other hilarious, modern takes come in the form of character Dr. Caius, a plastic surgeon in Waguespack’s version. Anne Page, who is being married off by her parents in a subplot, thinks her mother wants her to marry the doctor for free botox. The Garter Inn, which is the scene of much of the action, is called Legends at the Garter Inn in a nod to the Jefferson Street bar (a sponsor), and Falstaff, played by company member Daniel LeBoeuf in his biggest role yet, eats fast food from Burger King and Taco Bell and drinks Falstaff Beer.
Despite the love triangle between Falstaff and the two wives, Waguespack says it’s Anne Page who gets the last word. “She elopes with who she wants,” she says. “In the end, it’s the next generation that makes her own choice.”
Surprisingly, “The Merry Wives” ends without any bloodshed, as Mistress Page proposes that everyone go home and “laugh this sport o’er by a country fire; Sir John and all.”
“The Merry Wives of Windsor” premieres at Acadiana Center for the Arts as part of its current season on Nov. 21 and runs through Nov. 23. The play stars Daniel LeBoeuf as Falstaff, Lian Cheramie as Mistress Page, Christy Leichty as Mistress Ford, George Saucier as Mr. Ford, Hannah Briggs as Mistress Quickly, Colin Miller as Dr. Caius and Breanne Billeaud as Anne Page. Tickets are $20, and all shows are at 7:30 p.m. A talkback with the cast will be held after the Nov. 22 performance.