Yesterday was a beautiful day and evening and a perfect day to see Jocelyn Bioh’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor directed by Saheem Ali. Merry Wives is set in modern-day Harlem and most of the characters are immigrants from west Africa. Like the original play, there is a thin sitcom-like plot with buffoonish characters. Ali has everyone playing their parts broadly; sometimes verging on offensive caricature. Yet, I laughed along with everyone else because of the excellent acting and poetry of the words – both Shakespeare’s and Bioh’s.
It was nice to be in Central Park again after such a long break. I am hoping that this Delta variant does not ruin NYC’s comeback.
peg, Alex, Mrs Devereaux, and I met up with rtb, who was easily able to get tickets through her subscription. The Delacorte Theater is now divided into vaccinated and non-vaccinated sections. Those who are vaccinated can sit together unmasked. Those who are not, sit spaced apart and need to stay masked. From outside, we could hear a drummer playing on stage. When we sat down, I was able to take a photo of the beautiful set. This is one of the better NYC street sets that I have ever seen. Cut off in my photo was an old fire alarm at far right and far left was a fireplug and a Citibike stand with one bicycle. There’s an old Biden bumper sticker in one apartment window and another apartment has the owl and anti-pigeon spikes on the air conditioner and windowsills. Just before the show started, drummer Farai Malianga did a call and response with the audience. Then the entire company came out to welcome us and cheer that Shakespeare in the Park is back.
The first act introduces us to all of the main characters. Shallow (Julian Rozzell Jr) is urging his nephew, Slender (Joshua Echebiri), to woo the beautiful Anne Page (Abena). Shallow is also trying to collect a debt from the broke Johnny Falstaff (Jacob Ming-Trent). Doctor Caius (David Ryan Smith) is also wooing Anne Page. Fenton (MaYaa Boateng) is in love with Anne Page and that love is reciprocated. Pistol (Echebiri) delivers identical love letters for Falstaff to Madame Ekua Page (Pascale Armand) and Madame Nkechi Ford (Susan Kelechi Watson). Pistol tells the husbands, Mister Kwame Page (Kyle Scatliffe) and Mister Nduka Ford (Gbenga Akinnagbe), about the letters. But the women are friends and they compare the letters and decide to trick both Falstaff for trying to sleep with both of them and their husbands to get rid of their jealous natures. Mama Quickly (Shola Adewusi) also knows what is going on and helps with moving the trickery forward. Simple (Boateng), like Pistol, is used as a messenger. And there is Pastor Evans (Phillip James Brannon), who does not seem to have much to do except hang out with the other men. The Pastor and the Doctor get into a fight – over what I am not sure of – but neither of them really wants to get hurt and the fight ends as quickly as it started. Eventually the wives confess their tricks to their husbands and everyone joins together in the fifth act to trick Falstaff into coming to the park, where he is surrounded by the main characters and the ensemble (lead by Ebony Marshall-Oliver with Brandon E Burton, Branden Lindsay, Jarvis D Matthews, and Jennifer Mogbock) dancing and chanting. Madame Page wants her daughter to marry the Doctor but Mister Page wants her to marry Slender. The Doctor and Slender are each tricked into marrying someone else that evening, while Anne Page marries her love, Fenton, who her parents decide to accept.
It is a typical Shakespeare comedy with people in disguises and misdirect and characters realizing that everything is not as it seems.
I always have difficulty with foreign (to me) accents, so at first it was difficult for me to follow. It did not help that the sound was not good at the start but eventually that improved.
The set design was wonderful. The middle apartment building swung left to reveal Falstaff’s purple apartment with zebra prints, shag rug, and huge poster of him on a CD cover with a crown a la Biggie Smalls. It swung right to reveal the inside of Ford’s laundromat. Stage crew would come out in DSNY (Department of Sanitation NY) uniforms to pull out the Doctor’s or the beauty salon’s storefront to bring it center stage and reveal the insides. When they pushed the apartments aside to reveal the park, Beowulf Boritt (scenic design) utilized the actual trees in the park along with some fake trees while Jiyoun Chang (lighting design) made the park magical with rotating lights. Dede Ayite (costume design) dressed the cast in the most brilliant colors for the clothing that reflected both their homeland and Harlem.
Adewusi lead the ensemble in song and dance in the last act and after playing such a silly character, it was amazing to hear her sing and take the audience away with her voice alone.
Being in a theater, seeing some fine acting, hearing some wonderful songs, and hanging out with friends. A perfect day.
By Carene Lydia Lopez