RED BANK: BRUSH UP YOUR SHAKESPEARE

It’s one of William Shakespeare’s most raucous comedies; one that indicates that even the celebrated Bard wasn’t above cranking out a “popular demand” money shot. Picking up the character of Sir John Falstaff from the two parts of Henry IV — and plunking the portly, cowardly, boastful and besotted knight down into a farcical fracas of amorous misadventure and comical come-uppance — The Merry Wives of Windsor does its job within a relatively short running time, and with a relatively economical cast of 20 characters.

Or does it? According to Eric Tucker (pictured), co-founder and artistic director of NYC’s Bedlam Theater, the circa-1600 play can be brought to life just fine by a company of no more than three very busy actors — and tonight, February 13, Two River Theater offers the public a free-of-charge chance to watch director Tucker in action, as he works with his modestly scaled (but expansively skilled) cast in an Open Rehearsal at the Bridge Avenue arts center.

Scheduled for 7 p.m., the public-invited sneak-peek session showcases the trio of players — Nicole Lewis (Broadway’s Rent and Hair), Zuzanna Szadowski (TV’s Gossip Girl and The Knick), and Jason O’Connell (whose idea this all was)  — in selected scenes from the director’s own 90-minute adaptation of the Shakespeare frolic, going up in previews on February 25 (and opening officially on March 3) as the latest offering of the 2016-17 Two River season. Coffee and dessert will be served up in the lobby afterward to further sweeten the deal.

Making such magic — and with such a decrease in surplus population — is simply second nature to Tucker, whose Bedlam company debuted with acclaimed four-actor versions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and G.B. Shaw’s Saint Joan. He’s since done similarly intimate adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, and for his troubles was named Director of the Year by the Wall Street Journal in 2014.

The mainstage production will run concurrently with a 75-minute rundown of Merry Wives that’s performed by a cast of 18 high school student actors, as this year’s edition of Two River’s A Little Shakespeare program. That show will be on display between March 7 and 12, hosted inside the Two River building’s “black box” Marion Huber performance space.

The Merry Wives of Windsor will also be the subject of two public-welcome Shakespeare Play-Reading Group sessions, hosted on two successive Mondays (February 27 and March 6) inside the second-floor Victoria J. Mastrobuono Library. Participants are invited to join Artistic Director John Dias in an out-loud reading of the play’s text, with a discussion of its language and meaning. No experience is necessary; copies of the play will be furnished at each reading, and coffee/tea plus light refreshments will also be provided.

Full schedule details and ticket reservations for The Merry Wives of Windsor ($20 – $70, with discounts for groups, seniors, U.S. military personnel, their families, and veterans) and A Little Shakespeare: The Merry Wives of Windsor ($20 adults; $15 children 12 and under) are available here or by calling the box office at (732)345-1400 — and make sure to keep it tuned to redbankgreen for more on these and other upcoming happenings at Two River Theater.

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