The Public Theater announced Tuesday that Shakespeare in the Park, the free outdoor event hosted annually at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, will return in July with an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. Last year’s performances were canceled due to the pandemic.
“People want to celebrate,” said Oskar Eustis, the Public Theater’s artistic director who was hospitalized with the coronavirus last March, told the NY Times. “This is one of the great ways that the theater can make a celebration.”
On its website, the Public Theater shared that they have been getting ready since last year — “We have been producing new work and preparing a safe return. We’ve grieved, Zoomed, innovated, supported our communities, and connected our city. We’ve gathered brilliant artists to imagine summer under the stars in Central Park.” The season will run from July 5th through August 29th.
The production will be a “fresh and joyous adaptation by Jocelyn Bioh… set in South Harlem amidst a vibrant and eclectic community of West African immigrants, Merry Wives will be a celebration of Black joy, laughter, and vitality. A New York story about the tricks of the heart, performed in the heart of the City.”
This version, according to the Times, will feature “Falstaff as an African-American seeking to woo two married women who are immigrants from West Africa.”
The pandemic forced Broadway and other theaters to abruptly shut down in March of 2020. (The Public pivoted Shakespeare in the Park last summer to be Shakespeare on the Radio, with a four-part broadcast of Richard II on WNYC, Gothamist’s radio platform.)
Now, New York State is allowing arts and entertainment venues to reopen to limited capacities, and the Delacorte Theater—based on current guidelines—would be allowed up to 500 attendees in its open-air space. The Times reports that the Public hopes those numbers will increase, not an unreasonable expectation given that Governor Andrew Cuomo has already increased indoor dining to 50% starting on March 19th.
“In partnership with City officials, health and safety experts, and with our theatrical unions, the performance schedule, safety protocols, and free ticket distribution details will be forthcoming over the next several weeks,” the Public states on their website.