|© Courtesy Kate Mendeloff|
by Sally Mitani
This is the twelfth year Kate Mendeloff has produced Shakespeare in the Arb. She stages scenes in different parts of the park, moving the audience around several times during the evening with strolling musicians leading the way. Ringed in primeval-looking trees, the magnificent Arb is an astonishing setting for plays that have a forest in them, as a lot of Shakespeare's plays do. There have been years in the past when I've felt myself gasp as a tree, a hill, a horizon, or a sunset magically fused itself to the action in a way that simply could not occur on an indoor stage.
The 2012 production, Merry Wives of Windsor, runs Thursday-Sunday through June 24 (see Events). Unfortunately it does not--except for the very last scene--involve natural settings. It's a play about urban society, wealth, leisure, and the kind of mischief-making that rich people get up to when they've got nothing better to do. So the Arb here doesn't provide much more than a really fun place to be. The prize for this year's best make-use-of-nature scene would have to go to Falstaff making an exit by parting a hanging curtain of willow branches, but here he's just exiting a pub. It's very cleverly done, but it doesn't have the power of those scenes where nature gets to play itself.
I don't mean this as harsh criticism, because my baseline feeling about Shakespeare in the Arb is that if you pick a still, warm evening, and bring the right snacks and companions (or lack of them, if that's the mood you're in), there is no better way to spend a night in June.
A couple of young girls seeing their first Shakespeare play sat behind me at the opening of Act I, scene 1, and I heard them whisper that they didn't understand what was going on. Well they shouldn't have worried--neither did I. Merry Wives begins like most Shakespeare plays, with one of those "Fie, prithee,
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