New York’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production this summer of Merry Wives, a comedy adaptation by Jocelyn Bioh of the Bard’s Merry Wives of Windsor, will feature an all-Black cast including Jacob Ming-Trent (HBO’s Watchmen), Gbenga Akinnagbe (Broadway’s To Kill A Mockingbird), Shola Adewusi (CBS’ Bob Hearts Abishola) and Susan Kelechi Watson (NBC’s This Is Us).
The Public Theater announced the complete casting today, along with new dates for the staging in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater: Performances will begin Tuesday, July 6 (instead of the previously announced July 5) and run through Saturday, September 18 (an extension of three weeks from the previously announced engagement). The official opening night is Tuesday, July 27.
The extension is designed to compensate for current social distancing procedures that will require limited audience capacity of 428 at the 1,800-seat Delacorte. The audience capacity could be expanded if state requirements for small- and medium-sized venues change before July.
Bioh’s adaptation will be directed by Saheem Ali, the Public’s Associate Artistic Director and Resident Director.
Set in a vibrant South Harlem community of West African immigrants, Merry Wives is described as a “raucous spinoff featuring the Bard’s most beloved comic characters,” telling the story of the trickster Falstaff and “the wily wives who outwit him in a new celebration of Black joy, laughter, and vitality.”
“Merry Wives of Windsor is Shakespeare’s most purely light-hearted play,” said Oskar Eustis, the Public’s Artistic Director. “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!”
Shakespeare in the Park, like other New York cultural gatherings and institutions, was closed last summer due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition to Ming-Trent (who’ll play Falstaff), Adewusi (Mama Quickly) and Akinnagbe (Mister Nduka Ford), the cast will include This Is Us‘ Susan Kelechi Watson, Abena, Pascale Armand, MaYaa Boateng, Phillip James Brannon, Joshua Echebiri, Kyle Scatliffe, Julian Rozzell Jr., David Ryan Smith, and, in the ensemble, Brandon E. Burton, Branden Lindsay, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Jarvis D. Matthews and Jennifer Mogbock.
Ming-Trent, in the lead role, was most recently seen in Netflix’s The Forty-Year-Old Version, with other credits including R#J, White Famous, Panda in Watchmen and Hulu’s upcoming Only Murders in the Building opposite Steve Martin and Martin Short and Wu-Tang: An American Saga.
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, and choreography by Darrell Grand Moultrie.
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