The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0347 Friday, 19 July 2013
Date: Friday, July 19, 2013
Subject: Shakespeare in New York
All articles are excerpted from the New York Times Online:
July 15, 2013
Intrigue in an Asphalt Kingdom
By Ken Jaworowski
There may have been a dull moment during “Cymbeline” — before the beheading, the swordfight, the cross-dressing, the case of mistaken identity, the news of the kidnappings, the declaration of war, the mysterious sleeping potion, the devious lies and the murder plot by the scheming stepmother. If so, I missed it.
This free outdoor production by Shakespeare in the Parking Lot is at the mercy of street noise and, occasionally, a moving car on the set, so it’s no shock if you miss a thing or two as well. The only real surprise is how much genuine joy this ragtag show ultimately delivers.
“Cymbeline,” one of Shakespeare’s busiest and strangest plays, finds Posthumus banished from Britain after marrying Imogen, the king’s daughter. The story soon has the lovers separated and caught in webs of confusion and deceit, all while the nation prepares to battle Rome.
[ . . . ]
July 16, 2013
Where You Can’t See the Forest for the Egos, Fairies and Complicated Love Triangles
By Anita Gates
No, Daddy, I won’t marry that man, the young woman says. Her best friend has romantic problems, too; she adores a man who considers her a hideous loser. A group of untalented blue-collar guys are rehearsing a play for the city’s elite. A supernatural being uses a magic herb to make people want to ravish those they would ordinarily find repulsive.
This free outdoor production of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” has African drums, vigorous dance moves — and did we mention same-sex marriage?
Uptown Shakespeare in the Park, as the Classical Theater of Harlem likes to call it, cannot possibly compete in budget or polish with the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park series at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. But it is still as fresh as country lemonade, with its smart casting, and much is made of its African, Caribbean and contemporary American influences.
The forest where the major characters spend a bizarre night is lush with jungle greenery. The fairies who attend Titania (Zainab Jah), their queen, could be Beyoncé’s backup dancers.
There is more than a little Rasta in this part of ancient Athens. And Jamie Rezanour, as the lovelorn Helena, makes a welcome Latina contribution to the cultural mix. But universality is the work’s appeal.
The role of Bottom, the most egotistical of the workingmen-actors, is always a golden comic opportunity for an actor, and Anthony Vaughn Merchant runs with it, especially in his supremely ridiculous death scene. Bottom, not satisfied with having been cast as the play’s male lead, wants everyone else’s roles too. For unrelated reasons, Oberon (Michael Early), the fairy king, has him turned into a donkey.
The young lovers in the forest have always been Hermia (Halle Morse) and Lysander, running away because Hermia’s father will have her executed if she refuses Demetrius (Matthew Harris). But in this staging, Lysander has become Lysandra (Ito Aghayere), and the play ends with a triple wedding (four brides, two grooms).
Justin Emeka, the director, has done wonders in terms of his cast’s rare and nuanced understanding of the Elizabethan words they are called on to speak. But the language also loosens up now and then, just for fun. When the fairy attendants greet Bottom with “All hail!,” he lustily replies, “Hail, yeah!”
Inconstant Moon? No Problem
To say I am not an avid outdoorsman is a gross understatement. From my perspective, civilization as we know it dates to the invention of air-conditioning, and the whole point of living in New York City is the opportunity it affords to bypass nature completely and its many discomforts and outright perils.
So you might conclude that Shakespeare in the Park, the beloved summer institution created by Joseph Papp and going strong some 50 years later, would have me grumbling about bugs, heat, rain and a paranoid fear of falling tree limbs. (Not so paranoid, that, which is why I remain immune to the vaunted charms of Central Park.) I’ll cop to some resistance born of unhappy experiences, like the insufferably muggy night that I sweltered through “The Skin of Our Teeth,” and a performance of “The Merchant of Venice” that stretched until midnight after the skies opened midway through the first act, necessitating a 45-minute pause during which the audience huddled under the theater’s narrow eaves.
But I have come to appreciate — even look forward to — the undeniable pleasures of the experience, particularly in recent years, as the Public Theater has raised its Shakespeare productions to a generally high standard. The comedies in which natural realms are benign, healing influences play particularly well outdoors. Having a real forest (or what can pass for one) portray the role of the Forest of Arden in “As You Like It” sweetens the atmosphere of that play. Ditto “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” wherein the heart’s confusions are sorted out as the lovers tear through the woods surrounding Athens. I have no idea what the shores of Illyria were like, but watching “Twelfth Night” unsheltered by protective covering helps usher us into the experience of the play’s shipwrecked characters.
Seeing Shakespeare outdoors turns the playgoing experience into something more elemental and primal than it usually is, reminding us that this art form was born in outdoor auditoriums in ancient Greece and flourished anew during Shakespeare’s day at theaters like the Globe, which were not enclosed spaces, either. The lesser folk — groundlings — who stood to watch performances at the Globe would brave whatever weather came their way. They still do today at the facsimile constructed on the South Bank of the Thames — a hugely successful enterprise.
And, for many, seeing Shakespeare outdoors frees it from the suffocating air of elitism — or cultural homework — that can often cling to it. The most responsive audiences I’ve ever been a part of have been those at the Delacorte, most of whom, I suspect, are not regular theatergoers punching a cultural ticket, but people who simply come because it’s free and it’s fun — an unbeatable combination. Attending Shakespeare in the Park feels more like going to a baseball game, where you expect to be engrossed but are free from the threat of edification. Many of the more high-minded, assiduous (and deep-pocketed) theater lovers I know shrug and demur when urged to go see something at the Delacorte; they can’t be bothered to stand in line to score a ticket.
These days, more often than not, it’s their loss. . . . Having been charmed by the first offering this summer, a buoyant, 1940s-set production of “The Comedy of Errors,” I am excited to see the second, which begins Tuesday: a new musical adaptation of “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” featuring songs written by Michael Friedman, the house composer of the enterprising young company the Civilians.
So consider me a convert, a cheerleader, even a proselytizer at times. . . .