One of the Midcoast signs of spring in recent years has been the annual Shakespeare play by Camden Civic Theatre. Last year’s benighted April production of “King Lear” did not actually hit the stage until the beginning of July, and the arrival of warm weather followed suit. “The Merry Wives of Windsor” opened just fine April 9, so plan for summer to arrive on time.

It was, in fact, a raw and foggy evening, but a decent opening night crowd gathered for this perhaps lightest of Shakespeare’s comedies. They were in a mood to laugh and this production gave them plenty of opportunity. The off-kilter on-stage prosceniums within prosceniums and upbeat retro music samples, coupled with a strong set-up scene, made it evident from the start that fun was in store, and the opening scene’s dialogue revealed that the CCT sub-troupe of Shakespeare enthusiasts continues to excel in making the meaning of the Bard’s lines clear.

Particularly good in this regard was Vicki Wellner, who plays the aged Justice Shallow in a police uniform, relying on a cane. Wellner is new to local stages but I trust we’ll see more of her. Her efforts in bringing some sense to young, addle-brained Slender, played in full-on hippie gear by Tyler Johnstone, started the show off nicely. The costumes are all over the map in this production, reflecting perhaps the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s music snippets that covered each scene change and illustrated several entrances. Director Becca Gross takes the Mel Brooks approach to comedy throughout — throw anything and everything against the wall and see what sticks.

Sir John Falstaff, the foolish center of the action, wears traditional Elizabethan togs when he isn’t stripping them off in amorous pursuit of the title characters. Mistress Quickly also is costumed traditionally, though perhaps not in color scheme. Both characters were lifted by Shakespeare from the Henry historical plays, which might explain it. Brad Fillion, whom I last saw as Sir Toby Belch, is the perfect choice for Falstaff and, as he proved in last summer’s “The Full Monty,” he will do anything for a laugh. This is not a group that shies away from a comedic codpiece, but I’m not sure we really need more than Fillion in his Farmer Johns. I suspect there were some interesting conversations on the way home, given the klatch of youngsters in the audience.

Marie Merrifield as Mistress Quickly is another astute casting choice and she clearly has fun with this sassy, quick-witted if not book-learned, puppetmaster. Also on hand from the Henrys are Falstaff’s flunkies, but they appear here as The Three Stooges: Dominic Wellner (Nym) in a Moe wig, Patty Fletcher (Pistol) in Larry Fine-ish fringe and a remarkably transformed Tabitha Ordway (Bardolph) as Curly. Taking another cue from 20th-century popular culture is Jim Lattin’s Dr. Caius, doubly-trenchcoated and accent-challenged (sometimes to the audience’s disadvantage) in homage to Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau. That decision having been made, Caius’ servant Rugby, played by Erica Dailey, became Cato in costume and attack mode.

The ever dissolute Falstaff devises to woo Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, two upstanding Windsorites of comfortable means, in hopes of securing both gold pieces and bedmates. These good wives, however, are onto his scheme immediately and plan revenge by leading the errant knight on and out the door. Lisa Lundgren as Mistress Page and Kate Fletcher as Mistress Ford are lots of fun, particularly when play-acting for Falstaff’s ear. They come across as best friends who are up for anything. Steve Billiat’s Master Page matches the easy confidence of his wife, but Scott Anthony Smith’s Master Ford is a jealous man. Smith has the job of playing the closest thing this play has to a heavy and he seems to relish the juiciness of the role while keeping just this side of Othello. Brooks, the alter ego Ford uses to egg Falstaff on, is presented as a cowpoke complete with 10-gallon hat and Naugahyde chaps.

While much of the play focuses on the wives/Falstaff vaudeville, there is of course some real love around. Devin Fletcher, last seen locally as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” is all ’80s attitude in big hair, pleather mini and fishnets as eligible maiden Anne Page. Her parents have opposing husbands lined up for her, the dim-witted Slender by her father and the much older Dr. Caius by her mother. Anne, however, is in love with Fenton, who is played as a lovelorn glam rocker by Dominic William.

Also in the mix is Welsh parson Hugh Evans, played well and in Colonial-era clothing by Ann Harrison-Billiat. The minister and the doctor are fooled into a rivalry by the host of the local inn The Garter, gleefully played by longtime Shakespeare proponent Bill Maddox. These side scenes, many including Wellner, were a lot of fun. Another, cut the last time CCT did this play, has the pastor quizzing young William Page (a mop-topped Jacob Murphy) on his Latin declensions. Murphy is one of several young actors who kept pace with the adults this night. Camden Hills Regional High School senior Brittany Harrison-Billiat completes the Billiat family of Hope’s cast takeover.

There was not much evidence of opening night jitters, just a dropped cue here and there and a too-early blackout. Fortunately, the latter occurred when Merrifield was on stage; that gal is the best I know for improvising around stage mishaps. The pacing did lag toward the end, which brings everyone to Shakespeare’s favorite place for mischief, the woods. Falstaff and Ford learn their lessons and all’s well that ends well. CCT’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” brings some new faces into the Shakespearean sub-troupe, and most of the “missing” regulars were backstage, in the lighting booth or in the audience this night. That audience was clearly engaged and enjoying itself all evening and you can’t ask for much more than that.

Final performances of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 16 through 18 at the downtown Camden Opera House. For ticket information and reservations, call 800-595-4849 or visit

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to