In I Remember Nothing, Nora Ephron writes that one of the things she will miss when she dies is Shakespeare in the Park. This brought a little smile of recognition to my face when I read it originally because I always miss Shakespeare in the Park when it's not around.
I've realized after years in this industry that not everyone loves Shakespeare in the Park. Some critics are supportive of it to the point of absurdity, but many feature journalists often bemoan the experience. I personally think everything is more magical in the park. Even a mediocre production plays better when you're sitting at the Delacorte. I've sat through many shows in bad weather (exhausting heat, rain) and still come out happy I attended.
In the years that the Public has presented only one show a summer--which was about half of the last decade -- I was sad. You see, Shakespeare in the Park is one of the great pleasures of New York. Many cities have their own version, but ours is special. I say this with the egotism of a New Yorker, as, while I have been to some cities' and towns' versions, I have certainly not seen them all. Nevertheless I'm confident ours is the best.
I was not as big a fan of this summer's As You Like It as some critics (see: Charles Isherwood's review, stating: that the production "exemplifies the virtues of Shakespeare in the Park at its best -- warmth, vigor, accessibility and lucidity -- and also proves to be the funniest and most rewarding production of this rich, complicated comedy that I have yet seen"), this despite the presence of Donna Lynne Champlin and a performance by Oliver Platt that almost made me forget for three hours how much I have hated him ever since Guys and Dolls. Even though I didn't think this summer's staging was the best As You Like It ever, I still enjoyed my stop in the park.
There are a lot of things I question about how the Public is run, but I greatly admire the theater's continued dedication to free theater both at the Delacorte and with the Mobile Shakespeare Unit (which brings theater to prisons, homeless shelters, centers for the elderly, and other community venues throughout the five boroughs). With the online lottery, it is easy to at least attempt to get into Shakespeare in the Park. So why not at least try?
This week Into the Woods starts, making it Sondheim in the Park as opposed to Shakespeare in the Park. Thanks partially to the property and partially to the cast, Into the Woods will be the toughest ticket the Delacorte has had in a while. It's possible I should have saved this column for when the theater is filled with a staging of Timon of Athens with no film or television actors. But my sentiment applies equally to every show the Public presents at the Delacorte -- try to go; Ephron may not be able to anymore, but many of you can.