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THE BARD RETURNS TO THE GREEN: Cape Fear Shakespeare opens two plays with youth and adult companies

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Shakespeare on the Green returns for its 24th season performing “Twelfth Night” and “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.”

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Thoughts of a simpler time, with more eloquent dress and language, flooded the costume storage room near Greenfield Lake, where Cape Fear Shakespeare is preparing for their 24th season of Shakespeare on the Green. Surrounded by vibrant fabrics that beautifully form classic Elizabethan costumery, bell bottoms and ensembles from every decade, directors Adrian Monte and Cherri McKay reflect on the stories of the greatest playwright in history.  

“[Shakespeare] just told stories about the simplest representations of humanity,” Monte tells in preparation of the opening of “Twelfth Night” in June. “That’s why they still stand and why they’re still performed to this day. We still learn lessons from these things, and it is a teaching tool to our fellow man about life. It’s more than funny stories and Elizabethan dress; we learn from the plays.”

Monte is returning to Shakespeare on the Green after 17 years and now has the wisdom of age and experience that makes his relationship with theatre and the Bard even greater. After spending a few years in Chicago doing improv, Monte returned to Wilmington where his acting career began. He’s sitting in the director’s chair on “Twelfth Night” and wants to make the show as big, broad and funny as he can.

Based on the story of twin siblings who are separated in a terrible shipwreck, Sebastian will be played by Jackson Cole. Sebastian washes up on the shores of a kingdom called Illyria. Viola (Erika Edwards) believes her brother is dead and disguises herself as a man in order to work for Duke Orsino who is also in Illyria. The Duke, portrayed by Kevin Black, is madly in love with a woman, Lady Olivia (Alison Gayle), who has pledged to not love a man for seven years in order to mourn the passing of her brother. Orsino sends the disguised Viola to negotiate a marriage with Olivia, and in turn, Olivia falls in love with Viola’s male alter ego, Cesario. And in typical Shakespeare fashion, it’s all muddled when characters fall for the wrong person.

Director Monte is keeping his version of “Twelfth Night” strictly traditional with its classical Elizabethan style. “[There is] so much satire and so much gender identity,” he says. “With the recognition of gender identities in the political aspect, it is suitable for today’s society. On the surface it is a farce, but it has deeper meaning.”

Shakespeare on the Green manages to bring its magic annually to the outdoor amphitheatre setting of Greenfield Lake. It’s free and reminds most audiences of their earliest introduction to the Bard, reading “Romeo and Juliet” in school. Cherri McKay, director of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” is ensuring the Cape Fear Shakespeare youth company continues understanding the famed works of the greatest playwright in history by hosting their own performances every summer. “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” opens Friday. It’s a perfect match for the youth company, seeing as Shakespeare wrote the play when he was a mere 18. After 450 years, it still seems relatable to youngsters.

“The Two Gentlemen of Verona” recounts the story of two love-sick teens, Proteus and Valentine. Valentine, played by Aidan Malone, prepares to travel to Milan to see more of the world, but Proteus (Theo Townend) stays behind in Verona because of his utter devotion to his love, Julia (Clare Glenn). He later finds himself forced to follow Valentine to Milan, and they both fall in love with the same girl, Silvia, played by Chloe Mason. Friendships and relationships are tested, especially when Julia follows them to Milan disguised as the pageboy, Sebastian.

“I work with a lot of high schoolers, some middle schoolers, and a few even younger,” McKay says. “This play was one of Shakespeare’s first romantic comedies, and it just begs teen angst.”

McKay has removed all adult roles and replaced them with a teen counterpart, such as Milania, Proteus’s older sister. As well, she has modernized a score for the play. She chose The Beatles, BoDeans, The Tremeloes, and Pat Benatar yet sets them against bohemian-style costumes, intertwined with classic Elizabethan themes. Most of the characters will be barefoot and wear bell bottoms.

Her music choices were compiled through a collection of songs over the years that she personally wanted to include in shows. More so, they all reflect the theme of love and friendship so prominent in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Her vision for the theme and styles allow it to exist in both the period it was written “while adding hints of the world our youth actors live in today. Once they begin speaking in Shakespearean verse everything else is just fun and a compliment to their performances.”

McKay and Monte chose the two shows for 2016’s season simply because they are comedies. The experience of Shakespeare on the Green is meant to be light and enjoyable—or as Monte says, the audience is supposed to leave thinking, “Ah, great! I just needed to come out and laugh and see silliness for an hour and a half. This was perfect; this was what I wanted.”

More so, it can lessen the intimidation to understanding the Bard and his vast lexicon. “Comedies are an easier gateway to understand and enjoy the language of Shakespeare,” Monte tells.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Cape Fear Shakespeare Youth Co.
Fri.-Sun., May 27-29
Mon.-.Wed., June 6-8
Mon.-Thurs., June 13-16, 8 p.m.
Twelfth Night
Cape Fear Shakespeare Adult Co.
Fri.-Sun., June 4-26
Additional show Thursday, June 23, to benefit Actor Appreciation Night, 8 p.m.
Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre
1941 Amphitheater Dr.

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