Day: June 6th, 2007

Free Love in Central Park

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007 | All Things, Arts

The Summer 2007 production of Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater began previews tonight. The first show had been scheduled originally for June 5, but was postponed until tonight by the recent rains, which threatened the al fresco performance and cut short the actors’ rehearsal time. (The remainder of the five-week run will continue as scheduled.)

You know the drill: free tickets are distributed on a first-come-first served basis in two locations (at the Delacorte Theater and at the Public) beginning at 1:00PM the day of the show. The line, of course, forms earlier – usually much, much earlier – and continues to grow throughout the production run. Last year, snagging second row seats to see Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline star in Mother Courage was a 12-hour test of endurance (for SYB.) This year, with a somewhat less high-profile cast, the line for opening night tickets formed hours before dawn. Once again SYB stepped up to the task, taking the day off from work to arrive at Astor Place at 6:00AM, for which we were rewarded prime seats in the center of the seventh row.

For those without such intrepid and generous friends, there’s the Summer Supporter route (where a $150 donation will reserve one seat to either of this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park productions) or… Craigslist.

After a stop at Zabar’s for some intermission reinforcements (read: Carr’s table water crackers and spreads), I headed toward the Park for a night of Romeo and Juliet.

The pink, Pentagram-designed “Free Love” posters were up all over the park – a nodding reference to this, the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

R+J in the Park

R+J in the Park

R+J in the Park

This production of Romeo and Juliet marks only the second time that the star-cross’d lovers have taken the Delacorte stage; the first was in 1968 with Martin Sheen(!) and Susan McArthur in the leading roles. This time around Lauren Ambrose and Oscar Isaac head up the cast, which includes Emmy winner Camryn Manheim (Ellenor Frutt in ABC’s “The Practice“) as the bawdy Nurse and SITP regular Austin Pendleton as Friar Laurence.

Ambrose, who beat out Sienna Miller for the role, is of course best known for her role as angst-ridden teenager Claire in HBO’s “Six Feet Under; Isaac counts among his stage, screen and television credits, the role of Porteus in the Public’s 2005 production of Two Gentlemen of Verona – a role he snagged just weeks out of Juilliard.

This being opening night, there were some rough edges – a few flubbed lines, intermittent audio difficulties – but nothing show-stopping. The audience seemed to enjoy Ambrose and Isaac’s portrayal of teenagers in the wild throes of infatuation — others, I hear, were less impressed: distracted by Ambrose’s incessant, emphatic head-shaking.

Christopher Evan Welch in the showy role of Romeo’s sidekick Mercutio, elicited many laughs from those who didn’t mind his scenery-chewing antics – me, among them. (Who doesn’t prefer Mercutio, after all?)

Most striking was this year’s set: a round, shallow pool of water, over which criss-crossed planked foot bridges and doorways, and a large, segmented arching stairway. The resulting tableau made a bold, if curious, impact, this being Verona, not Venice, after all. Director Michael Greif (the director behind Rent and this year’s Tony-nominated Grey Gardens) employed the open space fully: sending his actors over, through and into the water for their scenes. The air tonight was unseasonably chilly: by nightfall, I was shivering in my winter scarf; Ambrose in her wet, flimsy, white nightgown must have been suffering mightily for her art. The set changes involved some complicated-looking rotating, moving parts, which were as impressive as they were noisy (think: water + metal hinges), and made for their own series of logistical challenges: soggy torches and slippery surfaces. I was nervous watching Isaac scale the heights of that balcony ladder in his slick-soled shoes.

No doubt the summer law firm associates in tonight’s audience had worker’s compensation and liability claims on their mind as well. Mercutio’s line, “O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees” (from his famous “Queen Mab” speech) sent quite a chuckle through the crowd.

Romeo and Juliet, which runs through July 8, will officially open June 24, 2007.

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