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Again - FREE Shakespeare in the Park!

For two years there has been no Shakespeare play to entertain Merced audiences for FREE in Applegate Park! No colorful costumes, no beautiful poetry, no sword fights, no tangled love plots, no actors or dancers, no children and families enjoying theater in the green park! The MOAT, the Merced Open Air Theater, got freshly renovated two years ago, newly painted, and showing beautiful tile artwork, but up until now the pandemic with its public health issues did not allow staging performances there.

Now with the 22nd season for Merced Shakespearefest, with Founder and Artistic Director Heike Hambley and the Board of Directors at the helm, plans are in place for a new beginning. Our first Shakespeare play after this long pause, the exciting history play Henry IV Part 1, will be performed in June rather than September with the hope that cooler temps and better air will prevail.

Henry IV is Shakespeare’s masterful portrait of a turbulent coming-of-age, a time of rebellion and civil war, and the relationship of the young crown prince with the comical knight John Falstaff, one of the most famous and entertaining characters created by the Bard. While the usurper King Henry IV struggles to consolidate his power, his son Harry, the later King Henry V, tries to find his place in the world and enjoys a poor inn with thieves and drunkards more than the court!

Director Traci Sprague from the Turlock/Modesto area has already been rehearsing for two weeks with the cast of about a dozen actors from Merced, Madera and Turlock. Seven years ago, Jim Bennett played the title role in Henry V. Here in the prequel, he plays the father Henry IV; Lorelei Sprague the son, Harry; and Bert Roper plays Falstaff, the same character he played years ago in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Leon Espinoza-Cortez plays the brash Hotspur. The cast is rounded out by Ava Daniels, Erin Isaacs, Heather Simmons, Jeff Truong, Katelyn Monteiro, Rich Barnes, and Sue First. The production is aimed at storytelling through active imagining and audience engagement.

The performances are free, and will be performed on Saturday, June 18, at 10 am and 6 pm and Sunday, June 19, at 6 pm, then again for a second weekend on Saturday, June 25, at 10 am and 6 pm, and finishing up on Sunday, June 26 at 6 pm. The play runs about 90 minutes. Bring low chairs or blankets. The MOAT is located at Merced’s Applegate Park, close to N and W. 26th Streets. For information go to, Facebook, or call 209 723-3265.

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