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Review Roundup: MERRY WIVES at Shakespeare in the Park- See What the Critics Are Saying!

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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.

Review Roundup: MERRY WIVES at Shakespeare in the Park- See What the Critics Are Saying!

Shakespeare in the Park is back! On Friday night, MERRY WIVES celebrated its opening at the Delacorte Theater, where it will run through Saturday, September 18. The play is adapted by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Saheem Ali.

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.

The all-Black cast of MERRY WIVES includes 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).


Jesse Green, The New York Times: "Who couldn't use a warm welcome back to live theater like the one being offered these late-summer evenings in Central Park? There, Jocelyn Bioh's "Merry Wives," a joyful adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" set in an African diasporic community in Harlem, is doing everything a comedy can do to embrace all comers."

Christian Lewis, BroadwayWorld: More than any other Shakespeare in the Park production I've seen, this piece celebrated the fact that it was in the park. I won't reveal how it is achieved, but Beowulf Borrit's set and Jiyoun Chang's lighting create a stunning coup de theatre that embraces Central Park as a theatrical space in a way I will never forget. It was a piece of theater magic that helped remind me just how special in-person theater can be. Despite some things to quibble with, Merry Wives is a vastly enjoyable piece of theater, a beautiful celebration of Black joy. After the past year, it is exactly the type of theater we need. If this is what the future of theater looks like, I am eagerly awaiting what else is in store for this season and beyond.

A.D. Amorosi, Variety: "Merry Wives" is a genuine marvel: a smartly clever clash of cultures, changing attitudes, and all the rich ways in which West African immigrants have made South Harlem their home. Sure, there may be more goofy revenge fantasies and farcical jealousies played out in "Merry Wives" than a season of "Real Housewives," but there is more joy to behold here than bitchiness or recrimination."

Matt Windman, amNY: "While it may not exactly offer the profound meditations of "Hamlet," the 110-minute intermission-less production (directed by Saheem Ali) is a flashy, feel-good, accessible and all-inclusive affair, making it an ideal way to return to the theater following the stress, tedium and heartbreak of the pandemic. Falstaff even makes a point of commiserating with the audience over in the midst of his shenanigans."

Greg Evans, Deadline: Briefly delayed by injury and Covid, Merry Wives opens tonight as a most welcome - and, with vaccines required, as safe as can be - escape from the woes of the world. With an update to a contemporary South Harlem peopled with a splendid assemblage of West African immigrant characters, Merry Wives enhances the classic farce with up-to-the-minute references (including, of course, Covid), the occasional brief snippet of R&B crooning, and a same-sex romance that seems completely at home in the setting.

Raven Snook, Time Out New York: "But is Merry Wives any good? Happily, the answer is yes. One of Shakespeare's lesser works, The Merry Wives of Windsor is a convoluted comedy reportedly written to capitalize on the popularity of Falstaff, the witty hedonist of the Henry IV plays. It is rarely performed, even at Shakespeare in the Park. But Bioh, the savvy Ghanaian-American dramatist of School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play, has transformed it into a breezy romp set in an immigrant community of modern-day Harlem that's infused with the poetry and pageantry of the African diaspora."

Steven Suskin, New York Stage Review: "To say that director Ali (resident director at The Public) has assembled a stageful of talent is an understatement. Happily, he sets them all firing sparks in tandem. He also pulls exceptional work from his design team. Beowulf Boritt provides the Harlem street scene, with several interiors trundling in from time to time. Dede Ayite's costumes start with streetwear but gradually incorporate gloriously-colorful accents which overtake our eyes. Meanwhile, lighting designer Jiyoun Chang takes advantage of the Central Park woodland to conjure up what becomes an astonishingly vibrant palette. All of which makes for an altogether merry Merry Wives, on display for as many lucky New Yorkers as can get tickets through the pandemic-mandated digital lottery. Enter early, enter often, and pray for clear midsummer nights."

Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: "Bioh also turns the incongruous Midsummer Night's Dream-like final-scene fairy pageant into something more than spectacle, using the summoning of the spirits to recognize the turmoil of the past year and a half ("the greatest of storms," she describes it). "Now is the time for the reformation/ Now is the time to rebuild the nation!" says Mama Quickly (Shola Adewusi). "Tonight, dear spirits we thank you for life/ No more pain or hurt of living in strife." Now that is something to celebrate."

Helen Shaw, Vulture: It's not just release, though, that makes Merry Wives so buoyant. The production itself has been carefully chosen to feel like a vigorous leap upward: Merry Wives is the playwright Jocelyn Bioh's adaptation of Shakespeare's farce The Merry Wives of Windsor, which she and director Saheem Ali have deftly shifted to a Ghanaian and Nigerian community in Harlem. It's not the Public's first all-Black cast in a Park Shakespeare - that would be Kenny Leon's exquisite Much Ado About Nothing in 2019. But it is the first time (outside of musical adaptations) that the summer festival has so definitively cast aside conservative dramaturgy and invited a Black playwright to make the piece her own.

Thom Geier, The Wrap: But the broadness has its appeal in making Shakespeare's comedy seem if not fresh, than familiar to fans of multicamera sitcoms. And there's an added appeal in Beowulf Boritt's stunning jewel-box of a set, which transforms itself into multiple settings - and then disappears in the final scenes to reveal Central Park in all its romantic glory.

Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post: The entire play, directed by Saheem Ali, walks that shrewd line between total irreverence and respect for the Elizabethan source material. While much of it is still from Shakespeare's quill, a Brit who died in the 17th century clearly did not, for example, watch Netflix or set his show in modern Harlem. He did not give his characters a rainbow of black backgrounds - Nigerian, Jamaican, Ghanaian - as Bioh has. The Bard wishes he'd had designer Dede Ayite's fabulous, sexy costumes.

David Cote, The Observer: It's a night in the Park that got me excited about the future of theater - and new ways to see Shakespeare. Perhaps we've returned to the point where he's no longer holy writ; to save the poor poet, we may need to knock down the mausoleum and put up a hair-braiding shop instead.

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