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Keeping Shakespeare in context

If you look at the poster advertising "Merry Wives of Windsor," you will notice a large man in a wooden vat. I asked Paul Harwood, director of Theatre in the Grove's latest production, what this represented. Does it mean the male protagonist, Sir John Falstaff, is in a lot of hot water for his shenanigans? Does it mean his goose is cooked? Exactly what is the deeper metaphor behind the picture?

Harwood said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and that Falstaff gets tossed out on his keister in a laundry hamper. It is all part of the hilarity that ensues when Falstaff tries to lavish his wiles upon the Windsor wives. "Merry Wives of Windsor" opens Friday, April 6.

Harwood is the latest director to attempt "Merry Wives of Windsor" as the previous director was unable to continue. Theater in the Grove board members were seeking another director when by chance Harwood's name was mentioned, and he was invited to take on the task. Even though he has directed at other theaters in the area and is a veteran actor for Theatre in the Grove, this is his first time directing at TITG.

Harwood stepped into a show whose previous director had a more modernistic vision toward staging "Merry Wives of Windsor." Harwood is more of a traditionalist, taking the straight, period approach and a few of the actors left the show as a result. He felt that by updating Shakespeare, one lost the believability factor. And it is important for the audience to remain connected to the play without that distant feeling that modernization may bring. He overcame these obstacles, and he is excited to unleash Shakespeare's frivolous farce.

One of his biggest challenges - besides recasting - was working with the actors to develop their Shakespearean delivery. Often with Shakespeare, the first few scenes are dedicated to exposition - setting up the situations for the later action -- so the rhythm and cadence of the language is crucial.

Harwood noted that unlike Theatre in the Grove's recent "Into the Woods" production, there are no hidden meanings or life lessons to be learned with "Merry Wives of Windsor." It is purely fun, farcical and joyful. There are double entendres, rowdiness and raunchiness, but it is all in good-natured fun; and Sir John Falstaff (Jeff Cooper) leaves Windsor the wiser for all his experiences.

"Merry Wives of Windsor" is a play full of plots and subplots to punctuate the action - with the most prominent being Falstaff's attempt to seduce the women of Windsor to keep him in the manner to which he would like to be accustomed. Mesdames Ford (Wendy Bax) and Page (Sharon Cunningham) are having none of his tomfoolery, and they concoct situations to humble this Lothario-wannabe. One subplot involves the daughter of Mistress Page (Dusti Schneider, of whom there are many suitors). Harwood said there will be lot of physical slapstick humor - a style which appeals to audiences of all generations - and Falstaff bears the brunt of many a joke.