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To See or not to see, that is the question.

Whether 'tis nobler to catch "Othello,"

A tale so sad and dark,

Or "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at Shakespeare in the Park.

Might I suggest, when pondering, perhaps with your betrothed,

There is no fee (the park is free),

My good soul, see them both!

Shakespeare in Delaware Park '90, presented by the University at Buffalo's Department of Theater and Dance, opens its 15th season on Tuesday with the romantic farce "The Merry Wives of Windsor." The comic romp through three of Shakespeare's favorite subjects -- love, money and deception -- runs through July 15.

"I think it's the perfect play for summertime," says the play's director, Kathryn Long.

The straightforward plot of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and its timeless characters trying to outwit each other in romantic foils make it ideal summer fare.

Though this is Long's first project with Shakespeare in Delaware Park, she is no stranger to Buffalo theater. She has been involved with Studio Arena Theatre for more than 10 years.

She says her schedule is "a little trying at times" between Studio Arena and Shakespeare in the Park, but looks forward to the rapport between company and audience.

"The environment (in the park) is just so perfect for Shakespeare. Much of the 'Merry Wives' takes place outdoors, and (the stage in) the park is so wonderful for that type of setting."

The cast of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" features an array of veterans performers, including Joshua Moore as Abraham Slender and Vincent O'Neill as Slender's uncle, Robert Shallow. Other familiar local actors include Darlene Pickering-Hummert (who also serves as publicity directory of Shakespeare in Delaware Park) as Mistress Quickly, Joyce Stilson as Ann Page, and Barbara Link LaRou as Ann's mother, Mistress Page.

Long became involved with "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at the request of Saul Elkin, founderand artistic director of Shakespeare in Delaware Park. Elkin, chairman of the Department of Theater and Dance, agreed with her on key points about the artistic direction of the play, Long says.

To direct the second play of the season, "Othello," Elkin has commissioned English director Peter Clough, formerly of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, England.

"Othello" stars Byron Utley as the brooding Othello. Utley was also featured as Loomis in the Studio Arena production of "Joe Turner's Come and Gone."

Other cast members include Josephine Hogan as Othello's misunderstood wife, Desdemona, and William Gointa as Iago, one of Shakespeare's darkest villains.

Rehearsals begin soon for this drama of jealousy, lust and revenge.

Elkin originally planned to have a 15th anniversary celebration, but budget delays in Albany presented an obstacle.

"The state budget was late, and the university's budget is tied to the state budget, as is the city budget, all of which we depend on," he says. "So it all sort of came together at the 11th hour, and it was just enough for us to get this summer on."

Elkin says the budget for Shakespeare in Delaware Park has grown from $5,000 in 1975 to $100,000 this year.

Salaries take up $80,000 of the budget; the rest goes toward production. Elkin says Buffalo has one of only three free Shakespeare festivals in the United States.

"I think people forget that when they consider the cost of the operation," he says. "We have no box office revenues whatsoever. New York City's (Shakespeare festival) budget of $2 million is outrageous compared to ours."

Elkin says he is committed to continuing free public theater in Buffalo and would like to see the budget grow. This would enable the company to bring in guest actors and directors and ensure the quality of the productions, he says. A larger budget could be met by soliciting corporate and private donations.

"The theater community here is developing a core of people trying to make a (living) in theater in Buffalo, as you can see by the (growing number) of theaters functioning in town," Elkin says.

For the first time, fliers were sent out this season asking for contributions to Shakespeare in Delaware Park. Elkin says he hopes there is a generous donor somewhere in Buffalo who is a fan of Shakespeare and local theater.

"We do pass the hat during intermission and people are very good about donations, but I think somewhere there's a patron saint, if you will, who will help us to become fully professional and have a large enough budget where we could bring in guest stars and not be limited creatively because we can't afford certain costumes or sets.

"We filed all the paperwork last year, but we just never started soliciting. I'm not sure why, really. This year is the first year we've sent out fund-raising pamphlets, so we'll see how that goes for us."

Sponsors this year include the state, county and city, UB, and additional support from The Buffalo News, M & T Bank, the Lenox Hotel, Calasanctius School and Downtown Graphics and Printing.

Performances of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" will be at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. "Othello" opens July 24 and runs through Aug. 5.

Pre-show concerts, listed in Friday's Gusto, will begin at 7:15 p.m. The stage is in Delaware Park off Lincoln Parkway between Forest Avenue and Iroquois Drive.

A special 6:45 p.m. opening night concert with Joyce Carolyn and Friends will precede "The Merry Wives of Windsor." Carolyn starred as Billie Holiday in T.O.Y. Company's "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" last season.

Glen Tate and Loraine O'Donnell will perform at 6:45 p.m. on opening night for "Othello." Tate and O'Donnell starred in last season's "Much Ado About Nothing."