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Shakespeare In The Park 2011 Brings Alternating 'Problem Plays' To New York's Central Park (PHOTOS)

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ALLS WELL COMPANY
Joan Marcus
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The cancellation of the New York Philharmonic's annual park appearances came as a disappointment to many Gothamites. But the city's legion of free culture-seekers needn't fret too much, as the Bard is back -- some might say with a vengeance -- in Central Park, with the debut of the 2011 Shakespeare in the Park's summer season.

Like last year, the Public Theater's talented company will present two alternating productions in repertory this summer: "Measure for Measure" and "All's Well That Ends Well," known among Shakespeare enthusiasts as two of the "problem plays" in that they do not fall neatly into a traditional comedic or tragic classification. From June 6 through July 30, audiences can enjoy these stunningly-staged, top-notch performances at Central Park's Delacorte Theater -- completely free.

Fifty-seven years after Public Theater founder and director Joseph Papp conceived of the project, Shakespeare in the Park remains a beloved tradition not just for its audiences but also for its stars. For Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins, who plays Mistress Overdone in "Measure for Measure" and the Countess in "All's Well That End's Well," the shows offer a rare opportunity to perform outdoors. "It's an extraordinarily beautiful place," says Pinkins, whose resume includes the musicals "Jelly's Last Jam" and "Caroline, or Change" in addition to recurring roles on "All My Children" and other series. "Theater for me is a very holy experience…[the Delacorte] is just a gorgeous place to be. It's definitely kind of magical."

Check out a series of photos from "All's Well That Ends Well," and then scroll down to keep reading.

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The exploration of women's roles in both "Measure for Measure" and "All's Well That Ends Well" -- two late Shakespeare plays last staged in Central Park in 2001 and 1993, respectively -- was of particular interest to Pinkins. "There's a connection between [the shows]…the really big plot points in both plays involve women tricking men into sleeping with someone else," Pinkins notes with a laugh. "The issues with women inside these plays…from a woman's authority over herself to a woman's ability to affect her destiny and the destiny of her children -- are quite profound, particularly when you consider [the fact that] these were being explored dramatically in the 1600s." The choice of alternating productions in repertory was yet another challenge for the cast and crew: "The hard part was going long periods in between working on specific scenes. Each time it felt like starting anew."

Though no one among the 2011 company quite matches the marquee name power of Al Pacino (whose starring turn in last summer's "The Merchant of Venice" was even granted a Broadway run), Pinkins notes the cast includes many stage actors who have successfully made the transition to Hollywood, including John Cullum, perhaps best known to television audiences for his portrayal of Holling the bartender on "Northern Exposure."

As in previous years, those hoping to score tickets for Shakespeare in the Park will have to dedicate themselves to standing in line at the Delacorte for their 1 p.m. daily distribution or try their luck at submitting a ticket request online. All performances begin at 8 p.m.

For more information, visit Shakespeare in the Park's official website.

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