As we approach the last weekend of Merry Wives at Quill Theatre, I wanted to share my program note. “Why this play? Why now?” indeed.

A record-breaking crowd waiting for the show to start at Agecroft Hall. Image by Festival Manager Tippi Hart

This is the Merry Wives summer. As we gather in Richmond, audiences are convening in Los Angeles, Bismarck, Atlanta, and countless other cities to experience the same slapstick romp. Shakespeare’s more obscure plays come in waves. In 2018, for example, you couldn’t walk through a park on a summer evening without hearing a furious Isabella ask, “To whom should I complain? Did I tell this, / Who would believe me?” These trends fascinate me, especially when I find myself joining them. I love knowing that other artists are arguing with the same text. It makes me feel connected to those friends and strangers. I also wonder about them. What makes Merry Wives as apt for this moment as Measure for Measure was for the aftershocks of #metoo? 

During lockdown, we found ourselves physically separated, but discovered new ways of connecting online. As we wore masks to protect our neighbors, we felt the disorientation of not being sure if we recognized them at the grocery store. The loss of a million people has irrevocably reshaped our relationships. Merry Wives is a play about community. Windsor is a town full of busybodies arranging marriages, collaborating in pranks, sharing rumors. As we rebuild and reimagine our web of relationships, we’re drawn to this story about community. Unlike many of Shakespeare’s plays, this one (spoiler alert) ends with the community made whole, with forgiveness and welcome. Right now, we don’t need a play that leaves anyone out. We need Merry Wives.

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