Theater Documentary, Review: ‘Reopening Night’

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By Ben Miles

“Reopening Night,” a documentary movie by filmmaker Rudy Valdez, gives an up close examination of the Public Theater’s 2021 summer reopening in New York City’s Central Park, subsequent to being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement, which came to a fuller fruition after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May of 2020.

The show the Public Theater was (and now is) producing is a minor Shakespearean comedy, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” with a radical but relevant adaptation of the 1597 script by Jocelyn Bioh and with playful direction by Saheem Ali. This “Merry Wives” is set in current day Harlem with a multinational African cast.

Though Mr. Valdez’s documentary doesn’t provide much context regarding Shakespeare’s play, which now seems as much a creation of Ms. Bioh as it is of The Bard, what we do get from the film is the sentiment, commitment and dedication that underscores the battle cry of theater, The Show Must Go On!

We meet Jacob Ming-Trent who embodies the apparently insatiable gourmand Falstaff (and who sports fashionable cornrows) as well as other actors, technicians and stagehands who suggest the inherent marginalization felt by many Black theater artists with regard to performing or participating in Shakespearian productions, despite Denzel Washington’s acclaimed performance as “Macbeth.”

Though this documentary on the reopening of the Public Theater (in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, the 1,800 seat open-air venue where admission is free), may appeal mainly to theater geeks and live performance nerds, there is much inspiration to be found for creative sorts of all types in the 128 minute film report on the trials and tribulations of producing theater.

“Reopening Night” is currently streaming on HBO.

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