The skies are clear; the warm summer day has cooled off; the pondside setting is gorgeous; your seats are terrific; you’ve got a glass of wine and are about to see a free play with friends. And there are no guarantees in the theater, but the Public usually puts on a damned fine show with an excellent cast and high production values. No wonder Shakespeare in the Park is so popular!
Last night was the final performance of Much Ado About Nothing, so this post is a bit useless for the rest of you, but it does give me a chance to endorse Shakespeare in the Park, so I’ll go ahead and do just that. This production, directed by Jack O’Brien, was really a delight from the very beginning. The prologue in Italian, the vegetable garden at the front of the stage, and the sun-drenched lighting beautifully called to mind an Italian villa in summertime. I feel transported just thinking about it, actually. The show was nearly three hours long, but didn’t ever drag, because it was full of wit, romance, high jinks, and of course, Shakespeare’s poetry.
Lily Rabe was sharp and very funny, nearly flawless as Beatrice. Though she is basically always flawless, right? Even better was Hamish Linklater as Benedick. During the first act I got a bit distracted by his wild beard (he eventually shaves it off, as you might remember), but he brought a nice mixture of brashness, physical humor, wit and energy to Benedick. Plus there was Brian Stokes Mitchell as Don Pedro. Casting people: if you want charm and gravitas in your show, Brian Stokes Mitchell should be the first guy you call. Not to mention his glorious singing. It’s definitely been too long since he starred in a Broadway musical.
Anyway, it was an utterly wonderful evening, and all four of us sailed out of the theater on a Shakespeare high. And we weren’t the only ones, as the following story might tell you:
In the bathroom line at intermission, a girl ahead of me told her friends: “This is great, but I thought we were going to see the original Shakespeare. I didn’t know they were going to translate it.”
Her friend said: “This IS the original Shakespeare.”
“No it isn’t. It’s in modern English. I can understand everything!”
Another friend of theirs interjected: “Well there are a few different translations….”
“No, there aren’t! This is the same Shakespeare as it always is!”
“Shakespeare wrote in old English,” the first girl kept insisting.
At this point the lady ahead of them jumped in before I could: “No, it’s not like Chaucer, they don’t have to translate. This is the original Shakespeare. But this show is one of the easier ones to understand. They’re not all like this one.”
I was fairly astonished at this whole exchange. I wonder if the modern American accents in the production threw that girl for a loop? But in any case, she made an excellent case for Shakespeare in the Park as a free event. To be honest, I’d been feeling a little fed up with the whole Shakespeare in the Park thing, even though it’s a summer tradition. The long wait for tickets (we arrived before 4 am on Sunday morning) prevents so many of us who love theater from being able to go. I hadn’t been in several years. I know what you’re thinking: Wow. I never knew Julia was so incredibly entitled! She thinks she should automatically get free Shakespeare tickets just because she likes shows? Which is why I was happy to be reminded that not everyone who sees these shows are part of the theater community. Lots don’t have any familiarity with Shakespeare at all. That’s the whole point, if I’m not mistaken?
Next up at the Delacorte is King Lear, which I will try to see (it’s the year of Lear, after all!), though a summer evening tragedy doesn’t hold quite the same appeal. But the Public definitely earned my good will with Much Ado, so bring on the next eight hour wait, I suppose!
My grade: A+
Running Time: 3 Hours
Ticket Price: $0 (with eight hour wait)
Worth it: Yes
Standing Ovation Watch: Yes*
*- Everybody stood, except for my roommate (the birthday girl! Happy birthday Rachel!) who was really reluctant to do so because she was worrying about what I’d say in my Standing Ovation Watch.