"It just kept twisting its mustache. 'Hamlet' was the worst: 'Hamlet' and 'Blithe Spirit' back to back, both of those shows suffered tremendously because of COVID," said Kathryn McGill, Oklahoma Shakespeare's executive and artistic director and co-founder.
COVID-19 continued to plague the nonprofit theater right up to last year's final performances of its original holiday hit "Jane Austen's Christmas Cracker," as the actress playing Elizabeth Bennet got sick and another performer had to go on in her place.
"After all that, we said, 'Let's start back in the summer. Let's not push ourselves. Let's lick our wounds and not do a February or March show.' I think we will go back to that ... but this year we thought, 'Let's wait.' And I'm glad we did," McGill said.
With COVID-19 no longer considered a public health emergency, Oklahoma Shakespeare is launching this month its 39th season, which will include two of William Shakespeare's well-loved classics ("Much Ado About Nothing" and "Romeo & Juliet"), two Oklahoma premiere titles about The Bard ("Shakespeare in Love" and "Born with Teeth") and the company's treasured yuletide tradition ("Jane Austen's Christmas Cracker").
Here are the shows in store for Oklahoma Shakespeare's 2023 season in the historic Paseo Arts District:
Oklahoma Shakespeare debuts new picnic option with season opener 'Much Ado About Nothing'
Oklahoma Shakespeare will open its 39th season with "Much Ado About Nothing" June 8-18 outdoors in its Shakespeare Gardens, 2920 Paseo.
One of Shakespeare's most influential works, "Much Ado About Nothing" is considered the archetype of the contemporary romantic comedy. Directed by McGill, the beloved classic centers on confirmed bachelor Benedick (Wil Rogers) and headstrong Beatrice (Amanda Lee), who try to cover up their undeniable attraction with a "merry war" of words.
"Benedick is one of my favorite roles. This is going to be my third time to play it ... and it's a joy to step into it," said Rogers, who also played the part in Oklahoma Shakespeare's last production of "Much Ado" in 2016.
"What makes it my favorite role is the quick wit in the language. There's nothing like the self-aware, complex wit that Benedick and Beatrice have. ... It really still amazes me that I love to do Shakespeare, that something 400 years old can be so universal and modern."
As Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park continues settling into The Shakespeare Gardens outdoor venue it opened two years ago on the Paseo, the theater is expanding its options for theatergoers who want to partake of a picnic at a show.
In addition to letting patrons bring in a meal, Oklahoma Shakespeare is partnering with local coffee shop Toast and Coffee to offer a new picnic option: Ticketholders can order a picnic basket for two online for $50 and have it delivered to the theater for Saturday performances. Toast and Coffee has developed an exclusive menu of gourmet sandwiches, salads and pastries for its Oklahoma Shakespeare picnic baskets.
"They can order their picnic at the same time they order their tickets ... and we're also going to be selling a bottle of wine and two glasses," McGill said. "So, they don't have to bring anything ... but they can still make it an evening with Shakespeare."
Long-running theater staging Oklahoma debut of the Oscar winner 'Shakespeare in Love'
The long-running professional theater will continue its season Aug. 10-20 outdoors in The Shakespeare Gardens with "Shakespeare in Love." It is believed to be the first Oklahoma production of the stage version of the hit movie, which won seven 1999 Academy Awards, including best picture.
Oklahoma Shakespeare Executive Producer Tyler Woods will direct Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s Oscar-winning screenplay. The rom-com follows a young William Shakespeare as he struggles with writer's block and finds a muse in theater-loving aristocrat Viola De Lesseps, who defies the social mores that prevent women from performing on stage and disguises herself as a male actor to star as Romeo in The Bard's new play.
"As I was rereading the script, I was laughing out loud," McGill said. "If you remember the movie, it's just very witty. Tom Stoppard, who is one of our greatest playwrights, co-wrote the movie ... and he is so great with language."
OKC theater planning autumn revisiting of 'Romeo & Juliet'
Oklahoma Shakespeare will welcome autumnn by revisiting one of The Bard's most enduring works, the star-crossed tragedy of "Romeo & Juliet," Sept. 14-24 outdoors in The Shakespeare Gardens.
Arguably the most famous love story in the world, "Romeo & Juliet" was the last show Oklahoma Shakespeare performed before the COVID-19 outbreak. But McGill said the upcoming outdoor production, directed by University of Oklahoma associate professor Alissa Branch, will differ markedly from the February 2020 staging inside the company's Paseo black-box theater.
"Indoors, you really get the intimacy, and outdoors, you get the spectacle. I think you can have more fun with the fights outdoors. There's more space," McGill said.
"Then, we'll roll it over to Oklahoma City Community College for a student matinee ... which we have not done since COVID. Teachers every year have been, 'When are you bringing the student matinee back?' so we are this year. And 'Romeo & Juliet' makes sense, because they all read that in school."
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park moves indoors with hot new play 'Born with Teeth'
Oklahoma Shakespeare's 39th season will shift inside to its recently renovated black-box theater on the Paseo for the Nov. 9-19 run of Liz Duffy Adams' hot new play "Born with Teeth." With Shawn Churchman directing, Oklahoma Shakespeare will present the Sooner State premiere of Duffy's play about a fictional faceoff between Shakespeare and fellow English playwright Christopher “Kit” Marlowe.
"It's a really interesting play that takes place in a back room at a pub as they meet over the years and we see their relationship grow. ... It's Liz Duffy Adams, and I love her plays. Her language is so sharp and smart," said McGill, who starred in Oklahoma Shakespeare's 2017 production of Adams' "Or."
"We're doing two Oklahoma premieres (this season), which is exciting. ... That's hard to say when you're a classical theater company."
OKC theater closing 2023 season with 'Jane Austen's Christmas Cracker'
Oklahoma Shakespeare will close its 2023 season with its interactive holiday favorite "Jane Austen's Christmas Cracker" Dec. 7-23 inside its Paseo theater.
Part Regency Era holiday party, part theatrical performance, part improvisational theater and part historical re-enactment, the festive, family-friendly show is adapted by Oklahoma playwright Erin Woods from the iconic novelist's books and family letters.
"It's always a hit," McGill said.
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park 2023 season
"Much Ado About Nothing": June 8-18, outside in The Shakespeare Gardens, 2920 Paseo.
"Shakespeare in Love": Aug. 10-20, outside in The Shakespeare Gardens.
"Romeo & Juliet": Sept. 14-24, outside in The Shakespeare Gardens.
"Born with Teeth": Nov. 9-19, inside Oklahoma Shakespeare's black-box theater, 2920 Paseo.
"Jane Austen's Christmas Cracker": Dec. 7-23, inside the black-box theater.
Tickets and information: www.okshakes.org.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma Shakespeare starts new season with 'Much Ado' and new picnics