Legend has it that Shakespeare wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor at the request of Queen Elizabeth I. The monarch, having seen the fat, bumbling knight, Sir Falstaff, in Henry IV, Parts I and II, apparently asked for a story in which he falls in love. Hence, the financially down-and-out Falstaff decides to pursue two very wealthy but also very married women, both of whom are much smarter than he. When they catch on to his plan, they plot together against him. Hijinks ensue. The backstory regarding Elizabeth I is dubious; its appeal is that it explains why the play isn’t one of Shakespeare’s best. But thanks to a modern reboot from Jocelyn Bioh, called simply Merry Wives, the delightful bare bones of Shakespeare’s plot have been given fresh life. The adaptation is set in South Harlem, where the characters are West African immigrants. It’s a witty look at modern romance and Black life, as clever as it is hilarious. —C.J.F.
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