Westerly Director Brings Shakespeare to Wilcox Park

The Colonial Theatre stages a family-friendly version of the Bard’s popular comedy


“I have very deep roots here,” says The Colonial Theatre artistic director Marion Markham, “probably as far back as Shakespeare.”

The Colonial Theatre was founded in 1986 and originally had their home in what is now the Granite Theater space. Comprising mostly New York-based actors, The Colonial became a home away from home when performers returned to the East Coast from their Broadway national tours. In 2000, the company relinquished their theater space and focused on producing free plays over the summer in Wilcox Park, a stunning Victorian-era strolling park that anchors downtown Westerly.

In 2018, Markham, who had been acting with the company since its inception – she played at least 15 of Shakespeare’s ladies “and plenty of his men” at The Colonial – was asked to take the helm. “It was meant to be,” the Westerly native says.

Markham trained at the renowned National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, CT. She spent her early career in New York City, amassing credits in the celebrated off-Broadway scene. But South County always beckoned her back. “I don’t know if it was growing up with the fabulous music at the Knickerbocker,” she says, noting it was where she learned to swing dance.

The Tempest, this year’s production, is the perfect choice for the coastal town. In an act of revenge, magician Prospero conjures a storm to shipwreck a king and his children. The play is considered a comedy in Shakespeare’s canon and Markham, who directs, is making it family friendly and accessible.

The Tempest is really about how lives transform after that big storm,” she says. “There are these incredible themes of freedom and forgiveness, reconciliation and imprisonment, powerlessness and conspiracy.” There’s also a feminist bent, since she cast women to play the roles of Prospero and Ariel. “I think that that’s going to be really fun to explore.”

The play includes Shakespeare’s regular comedy tropes like mistaken identity and young romance, and features plenty of high-seas hijinks. Markham is adding live music and trimmed the script so it clocks in at a breezy 90 minutes. “Order dinner from one of Westerly’s fabulous restaurants, bring your kids, bring the dog, and come sit in the park,” she says. “It’s a wonderful night out.”

With Markham’s deep roots in NYC’s theater scene, she has access to a creative team with Broadway cred bringing high-caliber production values. Their set is a permanent fixture in Wilcox Park over the three weeks they perform.

Markham taps Rhode Island’s rich community of actors for her cast and also brings in performers from New York and Los Angeles. Housing in Westerly’s overheated real estate market during peak tourist season is costly for the strictly donation-based theater. “There’s a very supportive and generous community in Westerly helping us with this,” she says.

With big dreams for The Colonial, Markham hopes to someday return to full seasons of year-round productions, but it’s baby steps right now, and she’s working on partnerships with local businesses to expand their summer season with readings and short programs. During the spring, the theater collaborated with Westerly High School to produce an evening of short works written by students and performed by professional actors.

“We are on a mission to bring live professional theater to this community,” she says. “There’s something very valuable to the human spirit about getting together as a community and feeling that electric energy during an event. It’s good for the body.”



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