I have seen five staged productions of Romeo and Juliet. Two were atrocious, one paralleled a real life love story (its lead actors where married 18 months later), one was passable, and the fifth was the best play I have ever seen. It is one of the few plays where I have immediately leaped out of my seat at the finale in an unquestioned standing ovation. Romeo and Juliet, summer 2007 at The Public’s Shakespeare in the Park starring Lauren Ambrose and Oscar Isaac. I will never forget that production, how I laughed, cried, and fell in love with Shakespeare in the Park.
I fell so hard I vowed to work there, and next summer, I did just that. It was my very first job in New York City. Not in the capacity a new reader might expect, but those of you who have been with me since the beginning, remember my stories of working as an usher: of being mistaken for Lauren Ambrose, for working security and leading James Franco to his seat, for the night when Bill and Hillary Clinton sat in my section and shook my hand and thanked me at the performances end. Shakespeare in the Park holds hundreds of memories and claims a special place in my heart.
Working there was an incredible experience and so is attending a single performance. It is now something I look forward to every summer. You can bring food into the theater, something which drove me crazy as a worker with tempting gourmet picnics surrounding me. Now I generally bring a thermos of white wine, maybe a pizza or sandwich, and a carton of strawberries. It’s fabulous.
Before 2007, I had been to Shakespeare in the Park productions in San Francisco and in Boston. Always enjoyable, but the audience was a first-come-first-serve, stake-your-picnic-blanket-on-the-grass sort of affair. The Public has a full on outdoor theater, assigned seating, and requires tickets. Tickets are free, distributed from the box office at 1PM.
This years production of As You Like It opened last Thursday to rave reviews. I saw it on its second preview, on a Wednesday evening. Arriving at 6PM, my friend Jake got tickets just by walking up to the box office. Rain was forecasted for the day, but had failed to fall by 7PM. After getting tickets, we wandered to a bodega and got a 40 of Coors Light. Not as classy as my usually wine, but the as show turned out to be set in an early 1900′s in the South, beer was apropos. The house opened at 7:30PM and we found our seats far stage left in the second to last row. Still, no seat in that theater is a terrible view- especially for the price of FREE.
After moments in our seats, rain began to fall. We huddled under the picnic blanket, hoping the fabric that shielded against wet grass would be durable enough for rain. Sun teased out from distant clouds, teasing us. Then, a rainbow appeared, crossing the sky across the stage- breath-taking. Jake snagged a picture while I suppressed the usher in me- photography is strictly forbidden anywhere in the theater.
Shortly after 8PM the rain stopped and we were treated to an enjoyable performance (of one of Shakespeare’s more flawed plays). Music played a considerable role, as it often does in director Daniel Sullivan’s productions. Blue grassy tunes, plenty of fiddle, composed by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin- he’s a fucking awesome renaissance man!). At intermission, we ran down to two empty seats that I had spotted in the front row. A completely different, and welcome perspective from our former high perch.
At the play’s end, I did not jump to my feet as I had 5 years before. I did smile and clap, it had been a fantastic evening. Check out the New York Times if you want a review! The show closes on June 30th- so soon! See it this week! The second show of the season begins previews July 23rd. It is Into the Woods (a musical!) starring Amy Adams and Donna Murphy and already touted as a must-see show of the summer. I can’t wait! It won’t be easy to get tickets for that one, but remember my tips, aim for early in previews! Maybe I’ll see you there!