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William Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” premiered in the Bowl at Clark Park on Wednesday July 25th to a crowded hillside of attendees. Families on blankets, couples, picnickers and dogs alike came out to catch the seventh summer of Shakespeare in Clark Park, a free outdoor theater production in West Philadelphia.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

The Merry Wives of Windsor. Photo courtesy Maria Möller

The only one of Shakespeare’s plays to deal exclusively with middle class English life during the Elizabethan era, “The Merry Wives of Windsor” is a comedy ideal for unwinding to on a warm summer’s evening. Its plot follows the comical knight Sir John Falstaff who is attempting to court not one, but two different married women: Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. Worse yet, he pursues the two wealthy women not out of love, but because he arrives in Windsor low on cash.

Director Rebecca Wright brings this romp somewhat closer to home by apparently having it set in the Deep South. With a background of hanging sheets, a washtub sans-bass and some cowboy boots, the feel of the already anachronistic play is more Alabama and less 17th-century England. Unlike a typical Shakespearean play, this production also includes live musical accompaniment. A string band sits to stage left and helps move the action along by plucking through the down time and even backing up the actors-turned-singers. The original score is written by Andrew Nelson and the stringing and singing gives Windsor the unmistakably carefree air of a real southern hoedown.

Merry Wives Cast

Cast of “The Merry Wives of Windsor”: Mary Tuomanen, Jess Conda and Robert DaPonte. Photo courtesy Maria Möller

This year’s play marks the seventh annual installment of the much anticipated Philadelphia performance. Shakespeare in Clark Park provides a cultural event for the Clark Park neighborhood as well as the Greater Philadelphia area as a whole. With crowds of as many as a thousand people coming out to picnic and wander into the wonderful world of William Shakespeare, it is obvious just how beloved this event has become. Never charging a penny, the yearly productions are truly by and for the community, depending on the support of local business and independent donations to provide free, quality public art.

Shakespeare in Clark Park’s 2012 production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” starts every night at 7 p.m. in Clark Park at 43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue and runs through July 29th. For more information, visit shakespeareinclarkpark.org or e-mail info@shakespeareinclarkpark.org.

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