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Shakespearean Celebration: Shakespeare on the Green bring two productions to the amphitheater

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Like most of the world, the Port City is no stranger to the Bard. Shakespeare’s masterpieces annually grace our coastal dwelling, imparting age-old wisdom and entertainment. Beginning in 1993, Cape Fear Shakespeare on the Green has been giving local audiences a summer dose of one of the greatest writers of the English-speaking world’s work. This year will prove no different. “Taming of the Shrew” (performed by Cape Fear Shakespeare Youth Co.) and “All’s Well That Ends Well” will get underway this June at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater.

“I have been involved with Cape Fear Shakespeare on the Green in some form or another since the very first season in 1993,” Cherri McKay, artistic director for Cape Fear Shakespeare Youth Co. and director of “Taming of the Shrew,” says. “Long past are the days of hanging a painted sheet and shining a light on it as our stage.”

Wilmington officially proclaimed May and June as the Cape Fear Shakespeare on the Green months in 2008. Consequently, McKay and the other forces behind the Bard celebration have continued to work toward top-notch quality in holding the annual productions. Costuming, lighting and the whole nine yards have been enhanced over the past several years. 

Beginning this Friday, June 5, “All’s Well That Ends Well” will light up the stage at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Opening in France, the play tells the story of orphaned Helen, who crushes on her adoptive brother, Bertram. The production will be undertaken by director Robb Mann.

“I was asked to come back after directing ‘The Comedy of Errors’ last year,” Mann informs.  “As far as what drew me to the production: It’s one that is not done as often but that has some really fun and interesting moments in it. I saw a production of it back in ‘93 up in Central Park as part of the New York Shakespeare Festival series, and it really made an impression on me.”

The production comes colored, like all Shakespearean plays, with universal themes like love. It’s about battling the odds to get what one’s heart desires most. Plus, Mann notes the secondary elements of the cowardice braggart getting what’s coming to him.

“[‘All’s Well That Ends Well’] is always fun, regardless of whether it’s as a director, a designer, or as an actor,” he says. “Even in one of Shakespeare’s lesser pieces, there are moments of transcendent writing that most authors will never achieve. There are reasons we still perform his plays after all of these centuries, and being able to find that resonance with a modern audience is always fulfilling.”

With the production, one of the biggest challenges has been making the play suitable for an outdoor Southern viewing. The original text calls for a four-hour production, but the expert team behind Mann have trimmed “All’s Well…” into half the length. Several characters have been combined, but the story still plays out with all its finesse and nuances.

Like any period piece, the play will come alive with elaborate costumes and props of traditional Shakespearean style. Mann promises the soldier get-ups worn by eight of the performers, in particular, will come laden with a sense of creativity; though, he’s hesitant to give away the surprise.

“All’s Well…” will complement McKay’s production of “Taming of the Shrew,” which opened on May 29. “It’s interesting that the youth company is performing ‘Taming of the Shrew,’ in that there are certain parallels between Petruchio for it and Helena, our lead in ‘All’s Well….’ Both face potential partners that have inherent difficulties associated with them, but both persevere in their pursuit until they get what they want. It’s a nice role reversal from a lot of period shows to have our lead as an enlightened woman.”

“Taming of the Shrew”continues through June 18. It will be McKay’s fourth time working on the production, and it stands as one of her favorites from Shakespeare’s widely expansive catalogue. Being a youth production, the play will allow younger thespians to sink their teeth into the iconic playwright’s work.

“The Shakespeare Youth Company is a P.E.T. (Performance Education in Theatre) Project, a diverse group of professionals . . . and their skills are drawn upon in the form of performance educators,” McKay tells. “The youth and professionals, utilizing our artistic community’s wealth of resources, are given an opportunity to learn and grow while being a part of a unique process. Activities like these enable us to continue fulfilling our mission, part of which is reaching out to young people through performance education, and being able to offer free admission to the public keeping Shakespeare widely available, to the greatest number of our fellow citizens, regardless of socioeconomic class.”

The play unfolds as Katherine, the “shrew,” is tamed by Petruchio. Folks can see elements of the play in another popular theatre production, “Kiss Me, Kate,” and the 1999 film “10 Things I Hate About You.” The play’s “taming” process often has been criticized for anti-feminist themes; however, McKay proclaims its gray area and entertainment value still prevail.

“It’s fast-paced, bawdy, and has a lot of physical comedy,” she continues. “The story revolves around two self-centered, strong-minded individuals who fall in love. Some scenes in ‘Taming of the Shrew’ can be perceived as harsh at first read. Some believe Shakespeare’s point of view told through the character Petruchio is misogynistic, which can be very destructive to women. Some believe he’s promoting feminist values through the voice of Katharina, which can be a terrific tribute to women. I didn’t feel it necessary to choose a point of view. The story is not that black-and-white, and that is why Shakespeare was meant to be performed not just to read.”

McKay has kept the introduction and prologue that many productions omit. The story’s told as a play within a play and includes a two-scene introduction.

“A whimsical lord decides to play a practical joke on a drunken tinker, Christopher Sly, by inducing him to believe that he is in fact a nobleman who has suffered from amnesia and is only now awaking from it,” McKay elaborates. “The main body of the play is presented to Sly as entertainment. I adapted the induction a bit by creating a back story for the character Christopher Sly and the Lord, which is based on the real Mermaid Tavern. The tavern was established in 1600s by Ben Johnson and was frequented by a group of well-known writers, poets and playwrights. The Mermaid Club was formed by Sir Walter Raleigh and Ben Jonson was its leading spirit. Shakespeare was a popular member and was loved and admired for his talent. He would have been no stranger to tavern life and no doubt took part with zest.”

Landfall Foundation generously aided the design and repurposing  of costumes. The productions’ costuming and setting will re-imagine Shakespearean times, maintaining its traditional look with bits of contemporary flair.

DETAILS:

All’s Well That Ends Well

Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
1941 Amphitheater Drive
Fri. – Sun., 6/5-21 Thurs. – Sun., 6/25-28, 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: Free (donations encouraged)

Taming of the Shrew

Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
1941 Amphitheater Drive
6/8-10, 16-18, 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: Free (donations encouraged)

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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