Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Shakespeare in the Park: The Lead up

The experience of attending and obtaining tickets for NYC’s Shakespeare in the Park is a labor of love.

It’s a battle at the Delacorte Theater which you, a lone solider, take on with a group of strangers. When you complete your mission and obtain tickets, you celebrate with fan fair and an evening of free theater under the stars. For some, independent of the production or the story, it’s all about doing it – and saying you did it. For others, it’s only about the theater and for some unique creatures, like myself, it has to be a little bit of both.

Let me take you through the process. The Public Theater, which produces Shakespeare in the Park, offers free tickets to the shows the day of the performance. A maximum of two tickets per person are released to theatergoers at 1 pm, which is the bulk of the tickets for the night. Just this year, the organization also began offering a limited amount of tickets to people through their website the day of the show. Although it’s a kind gesture, I don’t know anyone who actually received tickets through this method (and believe me, we all tried). Rolling over in your bed and firing up your computer probably sounds much more appealing that setting your alarm clock and standing in line with strangers, it’s not a sure fire way to see the show. So, I opted to stand in line, or as New Yorkers say – stand on line.

The lines this year where the longest they have ever been, forcing the organization to actually define an “end of the line” near the south west corner of the reservoir. This year also brought the earliest line standers, with several performances drawing people in as early as 20 hours in advance. Business professionals, students, retirees, and actors lineup with air mattresses, cardboard boxes, sleeping bags, and multiple meals packed in coolers to obtain tickets to the show. I love theater, but quite honestly I love sleep and my social life just as much.

I attempted to obtain tickets to the Public Theater’s most popular production of the summer, The Merchant of Venice on July 19. I arrived in the Park at 7:15 am, and met up with my friend Emily about 100 yards away from the south west corner of the Reservoir. The line attendants, including a very hot actor, told us at 8:30 am that there was no chance of us obtaining tickets.

My second attempt was on July 27, for the less popular and star-studded performance of The Winter’s Tale. The show had received some poor reviews and although I was pretty amazed by the casting, it didn’t have the star power of Al Pacino behind it. I happen to love the story of The Merchant of Venice and was always confused by The Winter’s Tale but knew the production would be worth it.

I arrived at the theater at 9 am and walked along the line till I hit the end; still on the walkway just before it made it’s first turn onto the dirt. I knew I was safe and was ecstatic from the moment I showed up. I took my place next to a very nice gentleman from the Upper West Side who ordered his breakfast sandwich to be delivered to him in line (a true NYC experience) and began chatting with the high school English teacher a bit further up the line. For entertainment and to avoid starvation I brought several magazines, my book club book (Girl in Transition), my camping chair, a towel, hummus and carrots, iced coffee and water, but I ended up playing with my iPhone and talking to the people in line most of the time.

As noon rolled around we began moving forward and obtained tickets at 1:30 pm! I almost couldn’t believe it. And, wow, was it ever worth it! Check out my review of the show in the following posting.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Power of Jealousy: The Winter’s Tale

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is a play deeply rooted in jealousy and the pain that follows the foolish creatures that act upon their jealous tendencies. Tonight we had the good fortune to see a production of the play, produced by the Public Theater, at the Delacourte theater. The outdoor theater, and beautiful evening set the stage (no pun intended) for an amazing, theatrical night.

We entered the theater, which is a heavily steeped stadium facing NYC’s Central Park and Belmont Castle. The recent addition of theater seats, as apposed to benches, was a pleasant surprise. We brought our own veggie sandwiches (see veggie me post), feta and cucumber salad, and bourbon iced tea for the 3-hour show.

Immediately we noticed the set, which is a massive round stage with no backdrops, but a transparent stained glass semi circle, which made up for half the stage and was hoisted into a vertical position throughout most of the play. The glass “wall” was creatively used to portray a various outdoor and backstage scenes and included a standard sized door in its frame. The stage also included several trap doors, which are lined with fake grass and house sheep puppets which pop up in the second half of the play.
As with many Shakespeare plays, this tale of jealousy has extreme repercussions include the death of the accused woman and her son, the murder of a close friend by a bear, and the return of a daughter, banished at birth from a royal castle. Oh the drama!

The play starts off as somewhat of a Greek tragedy, similar to Othello, with the king of Sicily becoming extremely jealous of his best friend, the king of Bohemia, and mistakenly believing that the man is having an affair with his wife. The Queen is forced into exile and has a child during in her jail cell. The newborn is banished, and escorted off the property by the king’s dear friend and confidant. Shortly after, the Queen and her only son die from the pain and agony of the infidelity accusations.

The confidant is fearful for the baby’s life and finds a safe spot for the basement on the shore of a shepherd’s property. The confidant is then killed by a bear, which was portrayed in a particularly odd way during the performance with a shadow puppet behind a white sail and odd gurgling noises. The shepherd comes across the baby, who has papers and a pouch of gold in her bassinet, while collecting his sheep and decides to bring her home. He and his son, who is the only comic relief in the first half of the production amble off the stage to close out the first act.

The second act was a much more fun and fruitful play, and showcased the work of a stronger director capable of creating a clearer production, something that seemed to slip away from him in the first half. The act is full of shepherds frolicking in the meadows and playfully seducing the ladies of the meadow (and perhaps even sheep), references to dildoes, and a trio of comedic characters (two giggling girls and a slick and entertaining thief, Autolycus). We also finally come across the troupe of characters disguising themselves as people whom they are not, in true Shakespeare fashion.

The end of the play wraps up with the king of Bohemia’s son falling in love with the king of Sicily’s daughter and unknowingly returning her home to her father. Once the reunion is discovered (I’m still not clear on how), there is a celebration, wedding and huge rewards for the sheperd and his son who took care of the princess for 18 years. Then, something strange happens – the dead Queen, who was recently resurrected in statue form, comes back to life. I’m not used to comparing Shakespeare plays to Sci-fi but this shit was weird. The conclusion of the show also made me wonder if Shakespeare was alive today, would he be writing Sci-fi or producing reality TV?

Overall the production was entertaining and made for a wonderful NYC evening. The play, which seems terribly difficult to direct and act, was well done aside from a few minor slip ups. Who's joining me in line for next year's productions?