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updated: 7/26/2011 12:32 PM

'Merry Wives' heads West in Batavia show

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Submitted by Shakespeare on Clark

Shakespeare on Clark will present "The Merry Wives of Windsor" opening July 29.

Falstaff and his merry band of roughens ride into the town of Windsor with his Wild Wild West Show. He is down on his luck and launches a plan to find employment for his men, and gold for his coffers.

He plots to seduce the two wealthy women in the town, sending them each a love letter, not knowing they are the best of friends, surely comparing the letters. They plan revenge on the arrogant man, and the games begin.

"The Merry Wives of Windsor" is one of Shakespeare's best loved comedies, and the Shakespeare on Clark troupe is adding the Western theme, and setting the show in the 1880s.

"The production lends itself to this theme," said Phil Roth of Streamwood, production and stage manager for the show. "The character names alone, Shallow, Slender, Pistol, and Simple, represent an Old West feel and much of the dialogue can be spun to a western interpretation."

Fight choreographer Bruce Worthel of North Aurora also has had the fun challenge of working in a variety of stunts with the actors, utilizing a variety of methods, from fist fighting, gun slinging and swordfights.

Working with Batavia Park District, host of the event, the scenery is being built to depict a Western theme. Designer Chuck Palia of Lisle had constructed facades of an old Western town featuring the jail, the blacksmith shop, and the "Guns and Likker" store. Many pieces were purchased recently at the Kane County Flea market to dress the set.

"We found everything we hoped for," said director Julane Sullivan of Batavia. "We purchased wagon wheels, old gun powder barrels, a longhorn skeleton complete with five-foot wide horns, and a variety of pitchforks and other western farm accessories."

Although the actual show is the highlight of the evening, audience members are encouraged to arrive early, picnic before the show and enjoy preshow western themed activities. Falstaff will take the stage early with "acts" from his downtrodden Wild West Show, which will feature three different Western-themed dances courtesy of Batavia Dance Academy. They will perform a rope dance, a cancan and an audience participation hoedown. The youngest of attendees are welcome to 'pan' for gold, Old Time Photos can be purchased in the photography tent set up by Photographic Services International. In this area, patrons can don some Western attire and have their photo taken either in this area or around the Western-themed scenery. Stockades will be located in the town just in case they need to round up some bad guys, and there might even be a gun show.

The costumes will have a fantastic western flair, and costume designer Laura Dwyer of Batavia has been crafting a variety of fun, colorful dresses, chaps, gaucho pants, and out purchasing fun cowboy hats, bandannas, gun holsters, and canes.

"I just love Shakespeare, and want to share the funniness that is so inherent in his comedies," Sullivan said. "We edit the show down to 90 minutes of full on energy, comedy, and entertainment; we allow the story to shine, the characters to amuse, and the mystic of 'Shakespeare' fades to fun."

This will be the 13th summer of productions on Clark Island. Shakespeare on Clark is sponsored in part by Batavia Main Street and the Batavia Park District, providing the island property at no cost for the event, and assisting with the marketing. The primary financial contributing sponsor is All Dressed Up Costumes, which donates all costumes and costuming services to the event.

The event is free to the public, with a $10 pass the hat donation encouraged to help offset the additional costs of the production. Scenery, props, sound equipment rental and lighting rentals, and all print materials are an expensive cost of the production, and the pass the hat contributions ensure the program can continue.

Clark Island is on the Fox River, just south of Wilson Street in downtown Batavia, with parking on either side of the river. A walk across either of the bridges will take you back in time and place to the 1880s Wild West. The productions opens Friday, July 29 with the play beginning at 7 p.m. and continues through Aug. 14 with performances at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 6 p.m. Sundays. Preshow will begin 30 minutes before the show, photos and gold panning available an hour before the start of the play.

Full details on the production, the cast and crew, and sponsoring partners can be found on the web at