‘The Merry Wives of Windsor Towers’ for Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot

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Look around at the SPURA controversy and you will see the same characters and class clashes as Shakespeare portrayed in “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” That’s the idea behind “The Merry Wives of Windsor Towers,” the first production of The Drilling Company’s Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot series, to be presented July 12 to 28, 2012 in the Municipal Parking Lot at the corner of Ludlow and Broome Streets. Hamilton Clancy directs.

This adaptation is set in an imaginary Windsor Towers, a condo which has just gone up on the Lower East Side. (Although it’s a fabrication, you can interview Lower East Siders about it and eight out of ten will tell you they know where it is.) Masters Ford and Page are two businessmen urging the passage of SPURA through the City Council (and standing to profit from it). Their eponymous wives are both active in the community. The comic hero, John Falstaff, is a classic Lower East real estate man always looking for the next big score. In this case, the real estate he’s angling for are the estates of Ford and Page.

merry wives
L to R: Drew Valins (Dr. Caius), Victoria Campbell (Mistress Paige), Veronica Cruz (Mistress Quickly), Karla Hendrick (Mostress Ford) and Andrew Markert (Hugh Evans). Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.

The production is partly homage to the last time “Merry Wives of Windsor” was presented in the Parking Lot in 2001, then, it was set on the Upper East Side. In the last ten years the Upper East Side has moved downtown and now the Lower East Side is filled with many of the same characters and class clashes that happen on a regular basis in Shakespeare’s original “Merry Wives.”

SPURA is the acronym for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, which covers five vacant plots of land owned by New York City on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, acquired as part of a 1965 urban renewal plan, near Delancey and Grand Streets. These sites, all in view of the Williamsburg Bridge, were originally part of a federal program to tear down several tenements and develop low-income housing. Some of the original SPURA property was developed, but five remain vacant to this day, the product of long disagreement over what “appropriate redevelopment” should be: permanently affordable housing, mixed use or large commercial retail. Last month, Community Board 3 broke a half-century long stalemate, approving a mixed-use development with numerous stipulations, including a 60 year guarantee to tenants in “permanently affordable housing,” a ban on big box stores, a new public school, a commitment that businesses in the project pay their workers a “living wage” and a guarantee that local residents would be hired for construction and permanent jobs.

The actors are Dave Marantz as Falstaff, Karla Hendrick as Mistress Ford, Victoria Campbell as Mistress Page, Veronica Cruz as Mistress Quickly, Amanda Dillard as Ann Page, Jean Marc Russ as Master Page, Bill Green as Robert Shallow, Andrew Markert as Hugh Evans, Sajeev Pillai as The Host of the Garter, Grant Turnbull as Master Slender, Shane Mitchell is Master Fenton, Drew Valins as Dr. Caius and Alessandro Colla as Pistol. Other featured actors include Michael Gnat, Leal Vona, Thoe Maltz and Hailey Simmonds. Scenic design is by Jennifer Varbalow and Lisa Renee Jordan is costume designer.

Director Hamilton Clancy is founder and producing Artistic Director of The Drilling Company. He directed “Julius Caesar” in the parking lot in 2010 and “Hamlet” there last summer. He also staged The Drilling Company’s much-acclaimed production of “Reservoir,” a modern adaptation of “Woyzeck” by Eric Henry Sanders, in 2010-2011at in The Drilling Company’s intimate theater at 236 West 78th Street. He is also an actor.

The Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot series continues this summer August 2-18, 2012 with “Coriolanus,” co-directed by Hamilton Clancy and Kathy Curtiss.

In over 20 years, there have been over 50 productions of Shakespeare’s plays for over 40,000 patrons in the Municipal Parking Lot at Ludlow and Broome Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The plays are presented in a working parking lot, so you can drive there but you should expect to pay the Muni-meter.

Why a parking lot? The Drilling Company’s founding artistic director Hamilton Clancy writes, “It is a tremendously accessible gathering place in the heart of the city. Like most companies that do Shakespeare we are following the spirit of Joseph Papp. But putting our own spin on it by placing it in a parking lot, making an urban wrinkle.”

Shows are offered while the lot is in use. The action sometimes happens around a parked car which drives away during a performance. At such times, the players stop and the audience moves its chairs, pausing the performance the same way a show would stop for rain uptown in Central Park. It’s all part of the fun.

Seats are available on a first come first serve basis, with audience members often arriving as early as 7:00 PM to secure a place. You are encouraged and welcome to bring your own chair. Once seats are gone, blankets are spread out. “We’ve never turned anyone away and there’s never a wait for tickets!” brags Clancy.

The productions are typically intrepid, bare-boned and often gloriously ingenious adaptations of the classics. For example, in 2010, Hamilton Clancy staged “Julius Caesar” as a battle for control of an urban school system, with women playing Brutus and Cassius. In 2011, director Kathy Curtiss set “The Comedy of Errors” in a pizzeria in Little Italy.

The company stresses that the Parking Lot has now become a versatile theater where it presents its work, not unlike the Globe was to Shakespeare. Hamilton Clancy writes, “We believe the Parking Lot can be a container for a range of directorial interpretations and perspectives. We’re in the Parking Lot because it’s a great place to present the play, not as a site specific interpretation.”

This summer’s offerings are supported by the Department for Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts, Con Edison, and the Department of Transportation.

All performances will be staged in the Municipal Parking Lot at the corner of Ludlow and Broome Streets, Manhattan. (Subways: F to Delancey Street, walk one block south.) Performances are FREE and play Thursdays – Saturdays at 8:00 PM. For more info call 212-873-9050 or visit www.shakespeareintheparkinglot.com.

Jonathan Slaff is a New York publicist in the specialty of international cultural events. Jonathan and his writers keep us ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.