BY BARBARA ARNSTEIN
The Hip to Hip Theatre Company, which performs Shakespeare every summer, and whose high standards ensure excellent entertainment, is presenting “The Merchant of Venice” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, and an interactive workshop for children, “Kids & The Classics”, before every show. Between July 22nd and August 15th, the company will be in a dozen parks, including ones in Queens, Long Island, the Bronx and Manhattan (where it performs in late August as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in North America).
In “Merchant”, a drama, co-founder Joy Marr portrays Portia (the character on their poster), who cleverly wins a case in court, and her husband, co-founder Jason Marr, plays Antonio, the man she defends. The title character (Shylock) is played by Doug Hendel, who also plays the clownish knight Falstaff in “Wives”, a hilarious farce in which the Marrs’ five-year-old daughter plays the part of Robin. At its end, characters masquerading as forest spirits are costumed as mythical beings more familiar to 21st Century audiences: zombies!
Although “Merchant’” has sometimes been regarded as anti-Semitic, at the time it was written it represented a great improvement over the usual theatrical depiction of Jews in that era, especially because it contains a famous speech in which Shakespeare impresses upon audiences that the merchant is as human, and as entitled to humane treatment, as those who are prejudiced against him. (A part of that speech: “I am a Jew…fed with the same food… subject to the same diseases…warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian.”). The play and the process of its production by Hip to Hip will be the subject of a fumetto, a photo book in a graphic novel format.
The plays and the workshop are free and open to the public. The outdoor venues include Flushing Meadows, Crocheron Park, Forest Park, Cunningham Park, Socrates Sculpture Park and the Voelker Orth Museum in Flushing. Voelker Orth provides chairs, but for most, bring a blanket or low chair. For more information, go to hiptohip.org.