When Willie Shakespeare, rumoredly at the behest of good Queen Bess, goes all out for "slap me on the ischium, and pinch me on the mammae," the result is good fun, but who said clean. When the stock company undertakes to spice it up a bit, where the heck was Jim Curley's sister-in-law?
The possibilities of a simple plot with one lecher, two merry wives, and one jealous husband would not strain the imagination of even the Old Howard's scrip writer. What Shakespeare does with it is refreshing diversion from his weightier masterpieces which stimone's brain and prod one's soul.
No immortal lines emerge from this lively farce unless it be those in the program notes which conclude, "Apparently there is no secluded corner of this troubled orb where the rotund Romeo does not have a counterpart; for, no matter what the customs or the climate, there are wives who are merry and husbands who are cuckolds." Albeit that wastrel Falstaff does get off a few juicy monologues on the vices of good and the virtues of evil, they are nothing one would want to add to his personal book of rules.
Charles Coburn, who plays the lead, is no newcomer to the Shakespearian field. Twenty years ago he was treading the boards in the quadrangle behind Sever when his own company gave summer performances around new England. Age and portliness have only enhanced his charms as Falstaff, that wistful pursuer of other men's wives. His supporting cast does credit to the Theater Guild's reputation for fostering real talent. A special word of commendation belongs to Judson Rees, the seven year old trouper who portrays Falstaff's petite page.
But for them that likes their great bard bawdy, "Merry Wives of Windsor" is topped by none.