This HBO documentary goes behind the scenes of the Public Theater’s post-shutdown, modern adaptation of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” featuring an all-Black cast.
Rudy Valdez’s documentary, “Reopening Night,” takes viewers behind the scenes of “Merry Wives,” the Public Theater’s first production after the coronavirus pandemic shut down Broadway and other venues until earlier this year.
The documentary, which is streaming on HBO, shows the difficulties of mounting a show outdoors while contending with the ever-looming threat of coronavirus: A cast member tests positive, the weather leads to cancellations, and the set pieces are constantly at risk of water damage if it rains.
“Merry Wives,” a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” was staged last summer as part of the Public’s Shakespeare in the Park program. The play, which was set in South Harlem, included an all-Black cast.
So many things can and do go wrong, but this production diary’s most intriguing element is the way it considers the value of art at a time when the country seems to be on fire. Shakespeare feels “frivolous,” says one of the cast members, in the face of a national health crisis, protests against police brutality and calls for racial justice.
Interviews with the members of the cast, crew and staff — like the playwright Jocelyn Bioh (who adapted the play), the Public’s managing director, Jeremy Adams, and the “Merry Wives” director, Saheem Ali — reveal complex and deeply personal reasons for such devotion to the theater.
There would seem to be “a chasm between people of color and Shakespeare,” but many of the performers find his work particularly suited to experimentations with language and the expression of diverse lineages. “Merry Wives” is a showcase for the possibilities of theatrical adaptation.
But there’s nothing fresh about the execution, and Valdez’s inspirational tone can feel overly saccharine. Nevertheless, “Reopening Night” should offer a certain kind of satisfaction for those among us who’ve waited for the return of live theater with jittery anticipation.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. Watch on HBO platforms.
Source: Movies - nytimes.com