Tracey among stars set for Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles benefit

The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles has long had a knack for lining up marquee names for its annual Simply Shakespeare benefit readings of the Bard's plays.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the center has assembled what Ben Donenberg, founder and executive artistic director, calls "one of our starriest and most adventurous casts ever." Christina Applegate, Kenneth Branagh, Faith Hill, Eric Idle, Arte Johnson, Eugene Levy, Tim McGraw, William Shatner, Martin Short, Tracey Ullman and event co-chairs Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks are set to perform "The Merry Wives of Windsor" on May 9 at UCLA's Royce Hall.
Donenberg, the evening's director, says the reading will have "a kind of country-western theme," including musicians playing and singing Hank Williams songs. "We try to make things fun and user-friendly for the audience," he said. "The actors are at liberty to improvise. This is impromptu and unplugged."
The chance to do Shakespeare in a relaxed setting with high-caliber casts keeps attracting well-known performers to the benefits, which are now in their 21st year. "Most of the people involved this time have participated before," said Donenberg. "And the others have attended."
The center is offering a small speaking role to the high bidder in an EBay auction that will run April 21 to May 1. The winner also will receive perks including an invitation to the post-show party and billing in the program.
Proceeds from the event and auction will go the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles and its youth employment, education and community-outreach efforts.
"The Merry Wives of Windsor" will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets, which cost $95 and $175, will go on sale Friday, April 15, at and through Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000. Gala tickets --  which  include admission to the reading and party -- cost $500 and are available at 310-201-5033 or