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All the world's a stage with Shakespeare in the Park

| August 15, 2007 12:00 AM

Montana Shakespeare In The Parks begins its landmark 35th season of providing exceptional entertainment throughout the region starting in June. The nine-week tour begins in Bozeman and will mount nearly 70 performances in 53 communities this summer throughout Montana, northern Wyoming, eastern Idaho and North Dakota.

One of the summer's most anticipated attractions, Montana Shakespeare In The Parks brings professional productions at no cost to the public to communities throughout Montana, northern Wyoming, eastern Idaho and North Dakota.

Remarkably self-sufficient, the touring company features 10 professional actors supported by a variety of designers and technicians who work together to bring theater to communities that may otherwise not have access to it.

"Heartbreak House" will begin at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at the Libby Middle School Amphitheater. "Heartbreak House," is one of the most extraordinary plays in the canon of Great Britain's second-greatest playwright, George Bernard Shaw.

Now considered one of the great classics of Western drama, Shaw's exceptional "Heartbreak House" was his indictment of the generation that began World War I. Alternately absurdly funny and wickedly profound; the play is overflowing with unique Shavian insight.

The play belies its age and speaks to a host of contemporary concerns and remains astonishingly and extraordinarily prescient. And here, perhaps more so than in any other of Shaw's more than 50 plays, we come up with the question: Can a single play which debates serious issues still be a laugh riot?

In Shaw's case, the answer seems always to be "yes." After watching his literary career vanish over his outspoken opposition to World War I, "Heartbreak House" was Shaw's 1919 return to the world stage.

Set in the decidedly Bohemian country manor house of the elderly eccentric Captain Shotover, the play features a family full of odd ducks, daffy servants, and bewildered houseguests marooned together as the world begins to shift around them. And while the First World War is never directly referred to, the aerial attack which provides the play's climax seems to give us an excellent idea of the time.

The fabled "Shavian Wit" is extra sharp here - the author weaves in pointed discussions on social theory, sexual conflict, greed, capitalism, intergenerational relationships, and other typically Shavian themes.

"Heartbreak House," written by George Bernard Shaw, will be directed by MSIP Associate Artistic Director William Brown and designed by Claudia Boddy.

"The Merry Wives of Windsor" will be performed at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Libby Middle School Amphitheater. Legend has it that William Shakespeare's knockabout romp, "The Merry Wives of Windsor," was written as a royal decree from Queen Elizabeth I who demanded a play about "Falstaff in love."

True or not, Shakespeare delivered with this mile-a-minute comedy which finds his best-known comic creation, Sir John Falstaff, transported out of the medieval King Henry histories and into Shakespeare's day.

A deliciously silly, bawdy, and saucy farce the play centers on the machinations of two wealthy

married women who, for their own amusement, pretend to respond to the advances of old Fat Jack, who has arrived in Windsor with little money but, as usual, with plenty of schemes.

Falstaff's attempts at wooing Mistresses Ford and Page seem to upend the entire town. Identities are mistaken, disguises are donned, and these "merry wives" decide to have a little fun of their own when both pretend to fall for Falstaff's advances while landing the poor old knight into one hilariously convoluted situation after another while the jealous Master Ford goes nearly apoplectic on more than one occasion trying to catch his wife in a compromising position with Falstaff.

The only one of Shakespeare's plays to deal exclusively with contemporary issues and people of his time, this ripping good play features comic action which rarely slows and is populated by a group of eccentrics that we can still find in nearly every town today.

"The Merry Wives of Windsor" was written by William Shakespeare, will be directed by MSIP Artistic Director Joel Jahnke and designed by Karen Cornejo.

All performances are free and tickets are not needed for admission. Tour coordinators in each of the communities served by MSIP work year-round to raise sponsorship fees to offset the cost of the production. Interested parties are encouraged to show up prior to the appointed curtain time with chairs, blankets, a picnic supper, and plenty of friends and family to enjoy the evening.

Set design for both plays was by Tom Watson.