Abena, Shola Adewusi, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Pascale Armand, Susan Kelechi Watson & More to Star in Free Shakespeare in the Park's MERRY WIVES

Additional cast members include MaYaa Boateng, Phillip James Brannon, Brandon E. Burton, Joshua Echebiri, Branden Lindsay, Ebony Marshall-Oliver & more.

By: Jun. 03, 2021
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Abena, Shola Adewusi, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Pascale Armand, Susan Kelechi Watson & More to Star in Free Shakespeare in the Park's MERRY WIVES

The Public Theater announced today that Free Shakespeare in the Park will return this summer with the delightful comedy MERRY WIVES, adapted by award-winning Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Associate Artistic Director and Resident Director Saheem Ali. Continuing a 59-year tradition of free theater in Central Park that was interrupted for the first time ever in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, this fresh and joyous adaptation of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor will invite the City to return and share in the celebration of Black joy and being together in community at The Delacorte Theater.

Performances will begin Tuesday, July 6, instead of the previously announced July 5 due to scheduling conflicts. MERRY WIVES was originally scheduled to close on Saturday, August 28, but will now run an additional three weeks through Saturday, September 18, with an official press opening on Tuesday, July 27. The Public will close out the summer with their Annual Gala as a special performance of MERRY WIVES on Monday, September 20, with a rain date of Tuesday, September 21.

"The New York theater is opening again at long last, and it belongs to everyone. Free Shakespeare in the Park is the most democratic of civic spaces, and for The Delacorte to launch the re-opening of New York's theater is a beautiful reminder of all the hopes we have for our city's future," said Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. "Merry Wives of Windsor is Shakespeare's most purely light-hearted play; its comic targets are men's vanity, jealousy, and self-absorption, its heroines are women of wit, strength, and power. Our production is set in contemporary South Harlem among the African diasporic community in New York, and that's not an accident. We are returning with a celebration of our immigrant communities of color and our certainty that Shakespeare can belong to all people, no matter who you are. We are back. New York is back. Come to Central Park to celebrate!"

Set in South Harlem, amidst a vibrant and eclectic community of West African immigrants, MERRY WIVES is a New York story about tricks of the heart, performed in the heart of the City-Central Park's magical Delacorte Theater. A raucous spinoff featuring the Bard's most beloved comic characters, this hilarious farce tells the story of the trickster Falstaff and the wily wives who outwit him in a new celebration of Black joy, laughter, and vitality.

"After a year of separation and a historic dark season without Free Shakespeare in the Park, we are thrilled to be together once more in community at The Delacorte," said Executive Director Patrick Willingham. "Without the partnership of our unions, public health experts, and elected officials at the federal, State, and the City level, these performances would not be possible. We want to thank everyone who has worked tirelessly to understand and prioritize the needs of non-profit performing arts organizations, create fair and effective guidelines, and develop new funding opportunities to get us to the other side of this pandemic."

The all-Black cast of MERRY WIVES will include Abena (Anne Page), Shola Adewusi (Mama Quickly), Gbenga Akinnagbe (Mister Nduka Ford), Pascale Armand (Madam Ekua Page), Mayaa Boateng (Fenton/Simple), Phillip James Brannon (Pastor Evans), Brandon E. Burton (Ensemble), Joshua Echebiri (Slender/Pistol), Branden Lindsay (Ensemble), Ebony Marshall-Oliver (Ensemble), Jarvis D. Matthews (Ensemble), Jacob Ming-Trent (Falstaff), Jennifer Mogbock (Ensemble), Julian Rozzell Jr. (Shallow), Kyle Scatliffe (Mister Kwame Page), David Ryan Smith (Doctor Caius), and Susan Kelechi Watson (Madam Nkechi Ford).

MERRY WIVES will feature scenic design by Beowulf Boritt; costume design by Dede Ayite; lighting design by Jiyoun Chang; co-sound design by Kai Harada and Palmer Hefferan; original music by Michael Thurber; fight direction by Rocío Mendez; choreography by Darrell Grand Moultrie; hair, wigs, and make-up design by Cookie Jordan; and sound system design by Jessica Paz. Narda E. Alcorn will serve as Production Stage Manager.

Tickets to MERRY WIVES are free, continuing The Public Theater's long-standing tradition of free programming and community engagement. This year, free tickets will be distributed, two per person, entirely via an advanced digital lottery hosted by new partner Goldstar. The lottery will accept entries through the Goldstar app and website each Tuesday and Friday, until 12pm ET, one week prior to the next week's scheduled performances. The lottery will begin accepting entries on Tuesday, June 29 for the Tuesday, July 6 and Wednesday, July 7 performances, and then again on Friday July 2 for performances July 8 through July 10, and continue each Tuesday for Monday-Wednesday performances and Friday for Thursday-Saturday performances thereafter.

"Working with The Public Theater to help people safely return to this beloved tradition of outstanding theatre in Central Park is especially significant right now," said Goldstar CEO Jim McCarthy. "People miss theatre, the live experience and being together. Our digital lottery is a safe and efficient way to distribute access to what will make for many merry evenings for so many people."

MERRY WIVES will have an Open Caption performance on Tuesday, August 24; an Audio Described performance on Wednesday, August 25; and an ASL performance on Friday, August 27 and Thursday, September 9. Accessible tickets for these performances are available through their respective Goldstar lotteries.

At the heart of The Public's return to The Delacorte this summer is our commitment to health and safety protocols that ensure Free Shakespeare in the Park is a safe and celebratory experience for our staff, artists, and audiences. In accordance with the New York State guidelines for outdoor gatherings, the theater's capacity will be limited to 428 seats due to social distancing. The Public will also be implementing the following policies in accordance with current guidelines from New York State and the City of New York: all patrons over the age of two must wear an approved face mask at all times and present a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the performance time; a negative rapid antigen test taken within 6 hours; or proof of full vaccination completed at least 14 days prior to performance date, along with a brief health questionnaire to be completed before arriving at the theater. Contactless temperature checks will be administered upon arrival and all patrons and staff must maintain physical distancing of six feet from others at all times. MERRY WIVES will be performed without an intermission. Policies may be updated at The Public's sole discretion, and subject to evolving New York State and City of New York guidelines. For more information on the health and safety protocols this season, please visit thepublic.nyc/safeinthepark.

This season, The Jerome L. Greene Foundation is playing a pivotal role in bringing Free Shakespeare in the Park back to New York. With their leadership gift of $1M making Free Shakespeare in the Park possible, The Jerome L. Greene Foundation is championing The Public's mission to create great theater, boldly conceived, and free for all.

"The Jerome L. Greene Foundation is thrilled to be the lead sponsor of this summer's Free Shakespeare in the Park at The Delacorte Theater," said Chris McInerney, President and CEO. "The return of this iconic summer theater experience is a long-awaited and joyous reawakening of the arts, and a significant moment in the cultural life of New York City. This performance, live and under the stars, will bring audiences together to experience an inspired production of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor, free of charge."

Since 1962, over five million people have enjoyed more than 150 free productions of Shakespeare and other classical works and musicals at The Delacorte Theater. Conceived by founder Joseph Papp as a way to make great theater accessible to all, The Public's Free Shakespeare in the Park continues to be the bedrock of the Company's mission to increase access and engage the community.

MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR has appeared on The Delacorte stage only twice before in Free Shakespeare in the Park's 59-year history. It was last seen in 1994, directed by Daniel Sullivan and featuring Brian Murray as Falstaff, Tonya Pinkins as Mistress Ford, David Alan Grier as Master Frank Ford, and Andrea Martin as Mistress Quickly. The first production at The Delacorte was in 1974, directed by David Margulies and featuring Barnard Hughes as Sir John Falstaff, Cynthia Harris as Mistress Ford, and Danny DeVito as John Rugby.

Free Shakespeare in the Park's return to The Delacorte this summer is a moment of joy and connection after more than a year of not being able to gather in-person to experience theater together. As planning for a safe reopening in July moves ahead, The Public continues to navigate immense challenges because of the global coronavirus pandemic, and in response to the long overdue reckoning around racism in the country and in the theater community, The Public continues to interrogate its practices and systems to move closer to being an inclusive, equitable, and anti-racist organization. This is a moment of uncertainty, transformation, action, and accountability. There is much work to be done, but The Public's mission has not changed, and artists and their voices play a critical role in this moment too.

To support The Public Theater, become a Supporter or Partner by visiting publictheater.org/supporttoday. For more information about the Annual Gala performance on September 20, visit publictheater.org/gala21 or email gala@publictheater.org.

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