The Rites of Summer: Shakespeare in the Park

msnd.jpg As we speed towards Labor Day, and the end of the summer season, I’ve been trying to cram in as many outdoor activities as time and weather will permit.

Besides a brief, blessed beach excursion, I’ve been city-bound the entirety of the season. It’s the curse of New York in the summer for those of us not lucky enough to have a share in the Hamptons or Fire Island: the heat, the garbage smell, the asphalt jungle at its apex.

But, thankfully, the city is a grab bag of free: movies in Bryant Park, concerts in Central Park, it’s an embarrassment of riches, if you have the patience and the fortitude to endure the lines, the waiting, and the potential for disappointment. And on the subject of lines, why is it no one in America holds the queue sacred? People cut and jump willy nilly, whereas if they were in the UK they’d be taken off and summarily beaten with in an inch of their lives. But I digress.

So, with the clock running out on fun and free, I made the pilgrimage to the Delacorte to see the Public Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Typically, one lines up early outside of the Delacorte or the Public’s home on Lafayette for tickets, but experience has taught that getting in the stand-by line before showtime can yield a last-minute ticket as well. And so, on a dreary Wednesday, with the temperature in the low sixties and the sky overcast, I trekked up to Central Park to take my chances. When I arrived after work, at half past six, the line was mercifully short and I ended up behind a middle-aged woman who was reading the Times. She said she was waiting for her husband, who was parking the car, and offered me a few sections of her paper to read. Turns out, said husband was the head of a company I’d temped for earlier in the summer. He strolled up and I recognized him instantly, so I buried my face in the newsprint, rather than have to engage in awkward conversation. Luckily, he didn’t seem to remember me at all, even though I’d been in his office for a stint of three weeks, and spoke to him several times a day. One can always count on the self-involvement of others to act as a camouflage, they’re so wrapped up in their own agendas they barely look past their own noses at those around them. Saved! Hell, I even ended up seated next to him, and he politely asked me to change places with his wife, who was assigned a seat in the row ahead of us, and he still didn’t recognize me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It was closing in on curtain time, eight o’clock, and there were about ten people ahead of me in line. I was getting antsy. How, with the unseasonably dreary weather, could there not be leftover tickets? At 8:01, the staffer in charge of distributing the remainders ambled over and doled out the tickets, and I rushed to claim my seat. As I said, I was seated next to the bumbling ex-employer, and was more than happy to change seats with his wife when he asked.

The show featured few stars, unlike previous seasons’ offerings. The biggest “name” was Martha Plimpton, and I doubt even the most devout Goonies fan was going to go out of their way to put “Midsummer” on the top of their to-do list. While It’s an added pleasure to see a Kline or a Streep grace the stage, it’s not necessary when it comes to the Bard, the role and the play is ultimately bigger than any single marquee name.

As to the play? It’s one of Shakespeare’s most beautiful constructions…a little wind-up toy that once it’s set in motion runs like clockwork until the curtain call. All the subplots weave and resolve themselves relatively seamlessly.

As to the production, well, that’s the beauty of doing Shakespeare, there’s never been, nor will there be, a perfect, defining production. All that can be hoped for is that the actors say the lines with as much truth as can be mustered, and with as little intrusion by a “directorial vision” as possible. And in this the show was a success. Of course, the Mechanicals always stand out, and rightly so. Bottom’s pompous posturing never fails to draw laughs, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Flute/Thisbe was pitch perfect. Of the lovers, Plimpton made a wonderfully funny and human Helena.

But nothing beats the setting of the park itself, the symmetry between the stage and the surrounding space. Watching the show unfold, as the last vestiges of day dissipate, reinforces the beauty of the experience.

If only all art were so fulfilling, so accessible, and so free. What better way to bid farewell to summer than with a little love, a little magic, and a little poetry?

Update: The Times‘ Ben Brantley weighs in with his review, as do the rest of the usual suspects.

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3 Responses to The Rites of Summer: Shakespeare in the Park

  1. *sniffle*
    made me wish I was there

  2. ephemerist says:

    Aw, don’t sniffle. We’ll always have Liev in Henry V.

  3. And Balchy Bartakomous!!!!

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