The sound of Shakespeare in the summer is a good thing, that's for sure, but it’s even better when it's outdoors, and best when it’s outdoors in New York City. The Bard’s language may be from another time and place, but the meaning and themes underlying the words still ring true today. And if you can't keep pace with the puns, let the actors' excellent emoting be your guide through the plot. Go ahead and catch a play (or two or three—they're free!), and soak it all up in the soft summer air.
The Drilling Company at Bryant Park: The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew
The Two Gentlemen of Verona: May 15–31 (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays), Upper Terrace; Romeo and Juliet, July 17–August 2 (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays), Bryant Park Stage; The Taming of the Shrew, September 4–20 (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays), Upper Terrace
The Drilling Company stages three plays for the price of none at Bryant Park. It's a veritable summer of love in Midtown—disguised lovers, spurned lovers, reluctant lovers, reunited lovers and, of course, star-crossed lovers. The first play to kick off the triad, Two Gentlemen, will be set in Little Italy, because “where else would you want to begin a summer of love?” says artistic director Hamilton Clancy. “Shakespeare knew to set the plays in Italy, although he had never been. We know it should be Little Italy because we've been.” For more information, visit bryantpark.org.
The Drilling Company's Shakespeare in the Parking Lot: As You Like It and Macbeth
As You Like It: July 9–25 (Thursdays–Fridays); Macbeth: July 30–August 15, parking lot at 114 Norfolk St., between Delancey and Rivington Streets
The show must go on! After losing the original venue where they had entertained Shakespeare enthusiasts for the last 20 years, the plucky folks at the Drilling Company have found a new asphalt stage at the parking lot behind the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center. For their 21st season, artistic director Hamilton Clancy and his troupe will transform the city-gritty surroundings into the Forest of Arden and the highlands of Scotland. Some chairs are provided, but bring your own for guaranteed seating, and be ready to make way for cars—it is, after all, an active parking lot. For more information, visit shakespeareintheparkinglot.com.
Shakespeare in the Park: The Tempest and Cymbeline
The Tempest, May 27–July 5; Cymbeline, July 23–August 23; Delacorte Theater, Central Park, enter at West 81st Street and Central Park West
Shakespeare's enigmatic The Tempest is the first of two productions scheduled for the Public Theater's banner summer program. Sam Waterston of Law & Order fame lends his gravelly voice to the role of Prospero while Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) capers and cowers as Trinculo the court jester. Next up, Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe, who were the lively Benedick and Beatrice in last year's production of Much Ado About Nothing, return to the Delacorte to play Posthumus Leonatus and Imogen in Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare's more convoluted plots. Most of the tickets are offered to the general public (two tickets per person) on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of each performance, beginning at noon at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, as well as via lottery on the Public Theater's virtual ticketing system. For more information, visit shakespeareinthepark.org.
New York Classical Theatre: The Taming of the Shrew and Measure for Measure
The Taming of the Shrew: May 26–27, May 28–June 28 (Thursdays through Sundays), Central Park, enter at West 103rd Street and Central Park West; June 23–24, 30 and July 1, Prospect Park, enter at Grand Army Plaza; July 8, 10–12, Teardrop Park. Measure for Measure: July 14–August 9 (Tuesdays through Sundays), Battery Park, meet in front of Castle Clinton; August 11–12, 14–16, Brooklyn Bridge Park
The rights of women are an underlying theme of both plays that New York Classical Theatre is offering in parks throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn this summer, says artistic director Stephen Burdman. An audience favorite, The Taming of the Shrew features Katherine—a prickly, unwilling bride—while Measure for Measure showcases the idealistic Isabella, who is willing to go only so far to save her beloved brother's life. The company is known for its “panoramic theater” style, in which the audience is immersed in the action of the play. All performances start at 7pm and last for about two hours. In addition to the shows, rehearsals are open to the public too. “It's a real joy for us,” Burdman says, “and I think our audience takes a lot of ownership when they come.” For more information about rehearsals and family workshop schedules, visit newyorkclassical.org.
Boomerang Theatre Company: Cymbeline
June 20–July 19 (Saturdays and Sundays); Central Park, near West 69th Street and Central Park West
It's the swinging '60s in Old Blighty in this production of Cymbeline, a tale of forbidden love, long-lost sons, tricky potions that mimic death and even a dramatic appearance by a Roman god. Performances start at 2pm; bring your own seating. For more information, visit boomerangtheatre.org.
Smith Street Stage: Henry IV
Henry IV, Part 1: June 30, July 8, 10 and 16; Henry IV, Part 2: July 1, 9, 15 and 17; the entire play, back to back: July 2, 11, 12, 18 and 19; Carroll Park
Smith Street Stage's sixth summer production of Shakespeare in Carroll Park may be its most ambitious yet: the troupe takes on both parts of the sprawling historical play Henry IV—back to back on some nights. This bildungsroman of sorts about the boy Hal who later becomes king, Henry IV will feature a gender-neutral cast, which means roles are cast regardless of the actor's gender. “Gender-neutral casting was a specific choice for this production, not only as an artistic choice that suits the play, but because we feel that it is important to examine old stories in new ways, provide equal opportunities for actors and try to cast the most talented, skilled and generous artists we can find,” says Jonathan Hopkins, the company's executive director. Most performances start at 8pm; for the back-to-back shows, Part 1 starts at 6:30pm and Part 2 at 8pm. Children are welcome. Bring your own seating. For more information, visit smithstreetstage.org.
Classical Theatre of Harlem: The Tempest
July 3–26 (Tuesdays through Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays); Marcus Garvey Park, Richard Rodgers Amphitheater
Shakespeare's The Tempest is a tale about exile and exoneration, servitude and liberation, loyalty and treachery. This production, directed by Carl Cofield, takes place in Hispaniola, an island in the Caribbean with a long history of colonization. The venue opens at 7pm for seating except on Fridays, when it opens at 6:30pm. For curtain times and more information, visit cthnyc.org.
Hip to Hip Theatre Company: The Merchant of Venice and The Merry Wives of Windsor
In repertory July 22–August 16; in parks throughout Queens, the Bronx, Jersey City and Southampton
“I felt these two plays actually complement each other very nicely, because the central theme in both plays is justice,” says Jason Marr, artistic director of the Hip to Hip Theatre Company. “And I also thought the theme of justice is extremely topical in our current sociopolitical world vis-à-vis social justice and equality.” Fun fact: Falstaff, a central character in Henry IV (which you can catch in Carroll Park—see “Smith Street Stage” above), also makes an appearance in The Merry Wives of Windsor. A free children's program takes place 30 minutes before each performance. Bring your own seating. For more information, visit hiptohip.org.