Summer of Shakespeare
Arts & Entertainment
by Patricia Tisak
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For many New Yorkers and visitors, the arrival of summer means that it's time to enjoy some wonderful outdoor performances of William Shakespeare's works in NYC. And what better way is there to spend a midsummer night than soaking up the harrowing tales of shrewd housewives, political assassination or mixed-up identities—in iambic pentameter, no less? There are plenty of options—many of them free—to provide entertainment and escape, all while holding up a mirror to nature and ourselves.
Read on for all things Shakespeare to see in the City—and don't wait too long, as "summer's lease hath all too short a date."
New York Classical Theatre
Central Park, May 31–June 24
Battery Park, June 26–July 22
It's one thing to go to a Shakespeare play, but quite another to be amid the action: New York Classical Theatre's panoramic staging of Twelfth Night will make the audience feel as though they're woven into the fabric of the production. "That's what's so important about what we call 'panoramic theater,' that the audience is at the center of the action in all our plays," says Stephen Burdman, artistic director of New York Classical Theatre and director of Twelfth Night. "We try to make it all a physical reality for the audience—we call them active spectators, because they're part of the world of the play."
The play will be set in 1900s-era New York City, a time of great transition that Burdman says he plans to take advantage of, particularly in the costume design—contrasting the stern modesty and strict gender roles of the Victorian era with the looser silhouettes and more androgynous look of the Roaring Twenties. Performances—Thursday through Sunday at 7pm at Central Park and Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm at Battery Park—are free. For more information, visit newyorkclassical.org.
Shakespeare in the Park
Delacorte Theater, Central Park, June 5–30, July 23–August 25
The Public Theater celebrates the 50th anniversary of its annual outdoor series, one of the City's most popular. The 2012 season features As You Like It, rife with cross-dressing, mistaken identity, young love and all the things that make for a classic Shakespeare comedy, from June 5 to 30. Directed by Daniel Sullivan, who was at the helm of past productions of The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night, this year's Shakespeare offering features Lily Rabe as the dominating force of the play, the heroine Rosalind. At the tail end of the season, from July 23 to August 25, is a production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Tony Award–winning Into the Woods, directed by Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel. A majority of the tickets are offered free to the general public (two tickets per person) on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of each performance: at 1pm at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, as well as through the Shakespeare in the Park website's virtual ticketing system. For more information, visit shakespeareinthepark.org.
Riverside Park, West 89th Street and Riverside Drive; Comedy of Errors, Thursdays–Sundays, June 7–July 1, Richard III, Thursdays–Sundays, August 9–September 2
In addition to its Shakespeare offerings, Hudson Warehouse, now in its ninth season, is also showing a production of Restoration playwright Aphra Behn’s The Rover. The productions are staged on the north patio of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Monument in Riverside Park. For more information, visit hudsonwarehouse.net.
Boomerang Theatre Company
Central Park, 77th Street and Central Park West; Saturdays–Sundays, June 23–July 15
It’s more bloodthirsty than ABC’s Revenge—watch a moody prince wreak havoc in the lives of everyone around him in a free performance of Hamlet presented by the Boomerang Theatre Company. For more information, visit boomerangtheatre.org.
Smith Street Stage
Carroll Park, Brooklyn, June 25–July 8 (no Wednesday shows)
Smith Street Stage transforms Carroll Park into a modern-day Illyria in its free production of Twelfth Night at Carroll Park. Although the play originally premiered at the end of the Christmas season, its romantic theme and otherworldly setting make for perfect warm-weather entertainment. Bring your own seating, or be prepared to stand like a groundling. For more information, visit smithstreetstage.org.
At the amphitheater at Riverbank State Park, 145th Street and Riverside Drive; in preview July 2–5 (no show on July 4), opens July 6, in production Wednesdays–Sundays, July 11–22
Tackling of-the-moment social issues without changing the Bard’s words, Pulse Ensemble presents the quintessential summer play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with modern twists like same-sex couples and feminists who want equal pay for equal work. Free. For more information, visit pulseensembletheatre.org.
National Theatre of Scotland's Macbeth
Rose Theater, July 5–14
There will be plenty of toil and trouble for Alan Cumming, who will play the ambitious nobleman and his wife—and the witches three and the king and, well, everyone in this one-man show. The production, directed by John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg, is coming to New York's Lincoln Center Festival after debuting in Glasgow. Instead of the black moors of Scotland, however, the play will be set in a psychiatric ward, with Cumming as a patient acting out the story of the thane of Glamis. "I had this idea I wanted to swap the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, because there are so many things about gender, I thought it would be really exciting to flip that," Cumming has said. "So we did the reading like that, in New York, and Andrew suggested that I play all the parts, and I agreed to the idea." Tickets range from $25 to $100. For more information, visit lincolncenterfestival.org.
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot
Municipal Parking Lot (corner of Ludlow and Broome Streets), Lower East Side, July 12–28, August 2–18
The Drilling Company's Shakespeare in the Parking Lot productions are always free, and always happen while the parking lot is in operation—making for a surprising and flexible stage. The 2012 season's selections are The Merry Wives of Windsor, a rare glimpse into middle-class Elizabethan life featuring the roguish Sir John Falstaff (of Henry IV fame), from July 12 to 28, and Coriolanus, Shakespeare's lesser-known tragic hero, a Roman general whose brilliance in warfare is beset by his lack of political finesse, from August 2 to 18. Performances are held on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. From a festive romp of scheming housewives to an organized band of citizens who are challenged by a leader who wants the power but doesn't want the people, it's a summer of gall in the parking lot, says artistic director Hamilton Clancy. Although some chairs are provided, audience members may bring their own for a guaranteed seat—just make sure they're ultra-portable, of course, to accommodate the cars. For more information, visit shakespeareintheparkinglot.com.
Hip to Hip Theatre Company
Throughout parks in Queens, July 25–August 18
Hip to Hip Theatre Company has been presenting open-air Shakespeare to thousands in Queens since 2007, all gratis. This season it presents Hamlet and Comedy of Errors (which contains the phrase “hip to hip” that inspired the company’s name) in repertory throughout 10 parks in Queens. For more information, visit hiptohip.org.
The Public Theater's Mobile Shakespeare Unit
Touring throughout the five boroughs, July 17–August 5
LuEsther Hall, August 6–25
The Public Theater presents Shakespeare's history play Richard III, whose power-mad antihero gives hunchbacks a bad name, during its citywide tour to reach audiences with little to no access to the arts, including those at prisons and senior citizen centers. Tickets for the production's run at LuEsther Hall are $15 each. For more information, visit publictheater.org.