by JK Clarke
What are you doing tonight? It’s the first weekend of June, a sunny day, not too hot yet. Well, if you like a casual evening in the park, then the Drilling Company’s free production of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor in Bryant Park, which plays tonight and ends its three-weekend run tomorrow, might just be for you.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is generally not counted among Shakespeare’s better plays. It’s a light “city comedy” like Thomas Dekker’s (a contemporary of Shakespeare) The Shoemaker’s Holiday or a Molière farce, in that a seemingly serious situation comes up, someone tricks someone, creating apparent peril, then all resolves tidily. It’s basically an Elizabethan sitcom.
The plot is simple, despite its attempts to appear convoluted: Sir John Falstaff (Dave Marantz), presumably brought back as a centerpiece of this play because of the popularity of his comic relief in the Henry IV plays, is broke (as usual) and decides to woo two wealthy women, Mrs. Ford (a talented Karla Hendrick) and Mrs. Page (Victoria Campbell, who makes a nice comedic team with Ms. Henrick). Very quickly, these “merry wives” are in on the ruse and set out to humiliate him. Meanwhile, Mrs. Page and husband Master Page (Aaron Scott, who wanders the stage twiddling a fidget spinner (a good contemporary gag—this version of the play, usually a period piece, is set in present day Manhattan—but one that’s carried out through the remainder of the play, long past when the funny expired) are attempting to marry off their daughter Ann (Liz Livingston) and suitors abound. Mrs. Page wants her to marry Doctor Caius (Remy Souchon), a bumbling French physician; Master Page wants her to marry Abraham Slender (Brad Frost); and Anne is in love with Fenton (Brandon Reilly, as a guitar-strumming, goatee’d hipster) whom her mother rejects because he squandered his fortune. Hipster indeed.
With the stately and graceful New York Public Library as the stage’s backdrop, the leafy green Bryant Park trees as the theater walls, and New York City life as a constant thrum throughout the production (actual tourists regularly stopped to take “selfies with Shakespeare” behind the stage; a homeless man in a bright orange coat, winter hat and a colander strapped to his back, pushed a baby carriage full of his possessions in the background, on the pathway just at the back of the stage—this is theater dropped into the middle of real life), it didn’t really matter a whole lot what was going on on-stage.
Helmed by Hamilton Clancy, this production is all about simultaneously indulging in the arts and city life—be advised, however: if you’re looking to dive deep into Shakespeare, this might not be the place to do it. At the beginning of the play we are told that there will be no intermission and that audience members should feel free to wander over to the newly formed food court in the park should we desire something to eat or drink. All very much in the spirit of the Globe Theatre in the Elizabethan era. A woman sitting next to me, a wonderful illustrator named Joan Chiverton, sketched the play’s characters as we watched. I’ve used her gorgeous work here rather than production photographs because they capture the mood, spirit and purpose of the entire affair.
So what are you doing tonight, or tomorrow night? Because it can’t get much better than spending a beautiful summer evening in Bryant Park, with some lighthearted Shakespeare as your company. Oh, and did I mention it’s free?
The Merry Wives of Windsor. Friday, June w and Saturday June 3 at Bryant Park at 7.00PM. Free. www.drillingcompany.org
Illustrations: Joan Chiverton