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Communique: "Merry Wives of Windsor" + "Romeo And Juliet" | Cape Fear Shakespeare 25th Anniversary

Cape Fear Shakespeare
Cape Fear Shakespeare (2017)

Cape Fear Shakespeare celebrates 25 years of outdoor theatre this summer at Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre. "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and "Romeo & Juliet" take turns on the stage through June 24 (maybe longer).

All shows are free. The gates open at 6:30pm; showtime is 8:00pm. Folks are encouraged to bring picnic baskets, although snacks are available for purchase. Bug spray is always a good idea in case the critters are hungry. If you forget yours, you can get sprayed at the concession stand. The show will go on rain or shine-and I can say from experience that there is a certain delight in watching a performance in the rain.

The schedule: 

"Merry Wives" is onstage June 1, 3, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, 24

"Romeo & Juliet" is onstage June 2, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21

Additional performances may be added June 26-29.

Credit WHQR/gg
Murphy Turner (l) & Caylan McKay

Listen to Caylan McKay and Murphy Turner above, and see our extended conversation below.

Caylan McKay: I am one of the producers for Cape Fear Shakespeare's 25th season of Shakespeare in the Park.

Murphy Turner: I am one of the actors for this year's performance of "Merry Wives of Windsor," wherein I play Master Page and the eminently attractive, beautiful Doctor Caius.

Gina: Let's talk about Merry Wives of Windsor. I know a lot of people may have never seen that show.

Murphy: It is not one of Shakespeare's most frequently performed comedies. This is true. It is however hilarious, and you will have a great time if you come.

Caylan: This is actually a show that Shakespeare was commissioned to write specifically because the queen fell in love with a character named Falstaff.

Murphy: Mm, yes. The play. One of the potential ways it was made - because there is another alternate theory. The play was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth. She wanted to see Falstaff in love, and she gave Shakespeare two weeks to write it according to tradition.

Gina: It's a little different than a lot of his shows. Give me a synopsis.

Murphy: Okay! The main action of the show, the main plot, revolves around the less than honorable knight, Falstaff, who is now broke trying to steal money from a bunch of middle class families by somehow cuckolding the husbands. I'm not really sure how it works exactly, but he was going to get money from the wives. The subplot involves Mistress Anne Page, the daughter of one of my characters who is an eligible bachelorette. There are at least three, if not many more suitors, vying for her hand in marriage.

Gina: What makes this a wonderful show?

Murphy: One of the things that's really lovely about this show is that all of the heroic characters are women. The men are guilty of jealousy, knavery, drunkenness, general buffoonery - but the women are really strong, smart, driven characters. They're also quite moral. The moral failings are all placed upon men in this show. So, it's like real life.

Gina: Let's talk about Romeo and Juliet.

Caylan: So, Romeo and Juliet is probably one of Shakespeare's most popular shows. It centralizes around two star crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, and their families who are mortal enemies. They fall in love and devise a way to run off together - maybe to a mortal end.

Gina: They die.

Murphy: They die. Part of what's wonderful about this show is the youth company has taken a lot of agency working on it.

Caylan: This year's youth company has taken upon themselves a larger role within the production side of the show. They are doing the costumes. They're cutting the script. They have devised what they want the show to be like and we as the, as the producers, just have to facilitate it - which has been really great to see. For instance, they've decided that they would like Romeo and Juliet to be genderless. So, we have two actresses who are playing both roles without any gender whatsoever, which is really powerful.

Gina: Tell me about the ages of the Romeo and Juliet cast.

Caylan: The youngest actor in Romeo and Juliet is six and the oldest is 20.

Gina: And this is the 25th anniversary of Cape Fear Shakespeare? Caylan, you were in the first youth production. You have also watched a lot of these kids grow up - like Theo.

Caylan: So, I was actually a part of the first inaugural season of the youth company, and the actors that were the youngest and those shows are now the oldest today. They're playing all of the really meaty, principal roles. For instance, we have an actor named Theo who is playing Mercutio, a role that I played when I was in high school when I was his age. It is so interesting to watch because he is doing a way better job than I ever could have imagined. He is doing an amazing job. He's actually in both shows. When he was kid, I didn't see that coming.  As a performance educator and watching him grow up and seeing him play two distinctly different roles - in both Merry Wives of Windsor and Romeo and Juliet - and his dedication, his prowess as an actor, is really heart warming to see on stage.

Murphy: In fact, Theo in the Merry Wives plays the Cornish priest, Sir Hugh Evans, and his ability to massacre the English language is truly legendary. It's really a beautiful thing.

Gina: And Theo's - what, 20?

Caylan: Theo just graduated high school. He's 18, and he's going off to Belmont University.

Gina: Tell me about Falstaff in Merry Wives. He shows up in other Shakespeare shows.

Murphy: Falstaff is one of Shakespeare's great characters - may have been based on a historical person and may have been sued to stop it being actually named that same historical person. Falstaff is larger than life. He is a rascal, and he's played wonderfully by Zeb Mims in our production. Zeb is so great that, when we auditioned, I said I wanted him to read all my sides so that I would know what he found in them. He's that good. His command as Falstaff is awesome. Falstaff really needs to be larger than life, and Zeb really is. He carries that energy. It's wonderful to see.

Gina: I think Caylan said about him being "effervescent" [laughs].

Caylan: I love it. Zeb has been performing at Greenfield Lake for the Shakespeare Festival since he was a sophomore in college. He's the type of actor that you look at and you see immediately that they are leaps and bounds larger than anyone else.

Gina: For folks who've never been to Cape Fear Shakespeare, what is that like?

Caylan: So, the gates open at 6:30. The picnic seating starts at 6:30. You bring a picnic. You bring a bottle of grape juice, and you can sit and listen to the lovely live music that we have. There's seating - stadium seating. I would recommend maybe bringing a towel -

Murphy: - Bug spray. Oh, one might want to consider bringing an umbrella. We do perform rain or shine. A blanket can be nice on those seats sometimes. We do have a concession stand. There will be snacks and drinks available if you forget yours. If you forget your bug spray, we probably have some of that as well.

Caylan: The show is 100% free for you to come see, but it is not free for us to produce. So, we ask for a suggested donation of $5, which gets you entered into our lovely nightly raffle.

There's nothing quite like sitting underneath the stars listening to words that have been written 350 years ago. That still ring true today. Being around the wind blowing in your ears, listening to the frogs, chirping in the background, the actors' voices carrying right above them. 

Murphy: But it wasn’t 350 years ago, it was 312.

Gina: Are you sure it's 312?

Murphy: No, it was published in 1703. So it's 315. It might've been 1706. Nah ….

Caylan: Aw, fact check.

Murphy: Oh God, we were off by three years. That's one percent.

Gina: Actually, we don't talk about Shakespeare on the station anymore because we don't know enough about Shakespeare. [all laugh] So, we just don't talk about Shakespeare. So, I did have one last question there. Murph, I think there's a few things that make Merry Wives of Windsor really special, including the setting. Tell me about where does it happen?

Murphy: So this show, unlike most of Shakespeare's plays, does not take place in an exotic location for his audience of the time. It takes place in Windsor - a place Englishman knew, even poor ones. There's the Castle Ditch, which is a real location. There are The Garter Inn, which is a famous in the area. There is the Order of the Garter is one of the most prestigious Orders in English Knighthood. This is a familiar place. It was really written to be a very different thing - that is real. The middle class is the star. There are a couple people who are the aristocracy. There are a couple of very poor people. But that middle class is really what fleshes out this show. It's very different, and I think the morals and the moral play in the show really bares that out.

Caylan: We've been very fortunate to have a kind of a farm system for the adults' show. We've got a actors who are currently in college that have come back for the summer to do the show like Jackson Cole. We even have a one actress, Quincy Rife, who went off to UNC and is now graduating and has come back for the summer to perform. We've got members from the youth company, from Romeo and Juliet, who are performing in Merry Wives of Windsor. It's just really incredible to see the harmony of young and old.

Murphy: I mean, these kids are tremendous. Anyone who's concerned about the youth of today hasn't worked with these kids. The fact that they're holding to Elizabethan plays in their heads at the same time, they are great onstage, and they're driven - we're really lucky to have them.