It’s that time of year again when actors from all over the country come to Montana to put on free renditions of Shakespeare’s work in parks.

Montana Shakespeare in the Parks is back for the summer and will do performances of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part I” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” The 11-actor ensemble will kick off a 7,000-mile tour in Bozeman on Wednesday to June 15 and June 19 to June 22 at the Montana State University Grove. The touring act will then travel through parts of Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.

Kevin Asselin, executive artistic director of Shakespeare in the Parks, will direct “Henry IV, Part I,” and Chicago-based director Marti Lyons will direct “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Lyons has worked at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, The Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Lyon said she decided to set the “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in a suburban community in the 1950s, challenging the time period’s perspective on marriage and patriarchal ideals.

“Part of what that looks like is looking at what everyone is repressing in order to make their small community work,” Lyons said.

The play features themes of misogyny, fat-shaming and the beating of a woman, who is actually a man disguised as a woman, and Lyons said she felt that was evocative of the 1950s. She said it was a directorial choice to “lean into” those issues to grapple with the content and understand behavior, rather than excusing it.

“I’m interested in looking at a period in which those things were funny and pushing them past the point of being funny, and trying to understand what the humor-cruelty might serve,” Lyons said.

"And to look at that ugliness dead-on, as opposed to trying to apologize for the content of the play.”

Asselin said the themes in “Henry IV, Part I” are honor, loyalty and fighting to bring fairness in a sometimes unlawful world. He said those themes made him think of the Montana and Wyoming veteran population.

“I think it brings us right back to the way in which our immediate population has always viewed the act of serving as the most honorable and loyal tasks,” Asselin said.

The play’s setting, he said, is inspired by the Word War I era for two reasons: the recent centennial for its end and to bring the play closer to the high veteran populations. Asselin said he wanted to create a world that was reflective of the era for the play, and avoided being too literal with its references.

The group of actors, chosen out of a highly competitive pool at auditions in Bozeman, Chicago, Houston and Minneapolis, will perform the plays in 61 communities from June 12 to Sept. 3.

The play is scheduled to make stops in several big and small cities in Montana throughout the summer. It’s expected to come back to Bozeman on Sept. 1 and end its tour in Belgrade on Sept. 2 at Lewis and Clark Park. All performances are free, excluding one at the Bozeman Sweet Pea Festival.

Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2630. Follow him on Twitter @TGIFreddy.

Reporter

Freddy Monares covers politics and county government for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.