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Outdoor Audiences Embrace Return Of King Shakespeare

‘Greatness Knows Itself’


After a two year hiatus, the Shakespeare in the Park program has once again brought colorful costumes, poetry, fight scenes, and dramatic acting to the Merced Open Air Theater at Applegate Park.

The 22nd Season started last weekend with “Henry IV, Part 1,” and the free shows continue this Saturday, June 25, at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and finishing up on Sunday, June 26, at 6 p.m.

The play runs for about 90 minutes, and guests are encouraged to bring low chairs or blankets.

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 Stanislaus County area, has already been rehearsing for two weeks with the cast of about a dozen actors from Merced, Madera and Turlock. They include Jim Bennett, who played the title role in Henry V. Here in the prequel, he plays the father Henry IV, alongside of Lorelei Sprague, the son, Harry; and Bert Roper who 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.

Director Sprague has been leading plays for a decade and a half, and was eager to bring that experience to the Shakespeare in the Park. Sprague has been involved with the stage since a young age and over the years has had her work take her both to center stage as well as to key roles off stage, and first began her work with Shakespeare in 2010 at the MOAT.

“No other words have ever been able to be put together to express what I felt better than Shakespeare,” Sprague told the Times following a performance last weekend. “That’s what really drew me to Shakespeare. It was the specificity to expressions.”

Sprague added that she and others find themselves drawn to the historical nature of the plays, as well as the politics and comedic elements featured throughout many performances. She noted that the story told throughout Henry IV seems particularly relevant and timely in today’s political climate.

Henry IV tells two tales that culminate together in a dramatic battle at the end of the play. The first story details King Henry IV, his son, Prince Harry, and their strained relationship, with the second speaking about a rebellion that is being plotted against King Henry by the Percys, who are angry because of King Henry’s refusal to acknowledge his debt to them.

The MOAT is located at Merced’s Applegate Park, close to N and W. 26th Streets. For more information, go online to, or call (209) 723-3265.

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