Just Sherring

Sherring’s Goodwatch: Shakespeare in the Park’s Merry Wives

Susan Kelechi-Watson & Pascale Armand

My first Shakespeare in the Park experience! As is the case with The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, tickets seemed impossible to get, so I gave up years ago. Thanks to longtime Instagram friend @bklyntyenyc, who made me her plus-one after winning a raffle, I was finally able to go. She and I met years ago at Angela Yee’s book club Kickin’ It From the Stoop. The monthly discussions were held at Woodstack Ivy, an apparel and footwear lifestyle boutique here in Brooklyn. I only attended twice: once for Phoebe Robinson’s Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay and DJ Beverly Bond’s Black Girls Rock, which is when Tyree and I met. We were in the autograph line together and exchanged phone numbers and handles to share the group photo we took with DJ Beverly Bond. Like me, Tyree is a blogger and recently launched a podcast. (All links can be found in her bio.)

While we’ve followed and interacted with each other via Instagram, and read each other’s blogs, the only other time we met in person was when she traveled to Bed-Stuy to have me autograph her copy of 2020: The Year that Changed America, in which I have an essay. That same meeting was used to drop off her merch that I had ordered to take with me on my trip. Meeting for Shakespeare in the Park brought our grand total of in-person meets to three.

Merry Wives is based on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, which I never had to read for school (or heard of). The usual syllabus suspects in high school and college were Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, The Tempest, Twelfth Night…but I digress. The remixed adaptation by Jocelyn Bioh centers around Nigerian (the Fords) and Ghanaian (the Pages) immigrant families living in Harlem, trying to agree on marriage terms for their daughter and nephew. The supporting cast involves a Senegalese doctor, and the sole American character Falstaff, a native Harlemite. There’s a twist that the audience, but not the families, are privy to.

Delacorte Theater is an open venue in Central Park. The backdrop of the Park as part of the moving set was beautiful. Scenes took place in a hair salon, laundrymat, Falstaff’s apartment, or on the Harlem sidewalk, where we see a Black Lives Matter sign and a huge billboard of a gorgeous black woman with a headwrap and face mask. Hello, covid.

The Ankara print costumes were gorgeous. I’d gladly charge up my credit card to purchase and flaunt them at family gatherings—post-covid. The jokes, emphasized by the West African accents, were amusing, and of course there was mention of jollof rice. As a Caribbean girl, I’ve indulged in plenty of Haitian, Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Dominican rice (rice and beans aka rice & peas), but I have yet to feast on jollof rice. I long to pick a side in the infamous Jollof War between Nigeria and Ghana. Yes, I know there are others, but those two, particularly Nigerians, are quite loud and proud about theirs, as I’ve witnessed online.

Admittedly, I need to pay better attention to playwright and actors’ names in plays as I do for movies. More than once, years later, I realize that an actor I saw on stage has gone on to bigger and greater things. Cheers to you, Cynthia Erivo in The Color Purple. Post-Broadway she portrayed giant Black legends Harriet Tubman and Aretha Franklin on film, among other projects. The multi-awarded actress and singer performed at the Oscars!

I save all my tickets and playbills from live events. Unfortunately, there was no playbill doled out for Merry Wives. Had there been, I would’ve known that Madam Ford was played by Susan Kelechi-Watson of This is Us fame! My bad eyes certainly didn’t peep that. Honestly without knowing that, she was one of my favorite characters anyway. Not to mention her outfits were especially slamming! Gbenga Akinnagbe from the The Wire and a bevy of other productions played her suspicious and foolhardy husband Mr. Ford. No other names and faces jump out to me from the cast list, but that doesn’t make their resumes any less impressive. I would be remiss if I didn’t give director Saheem Ali and costume designer Dede Ayite their flowers here for their contributions to the play.

If this is a traveling play, I’d recommend for people to catch it in their city. If you’re here in New York, try your luck at winning the lottery.

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