"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your beers..."
Everyone's been to Shakespeare in the Park or Shakespeare in a park, but few people outside of Shakespeare's actual friends and co-workers have experienced Shakespeare in a drinking establishment.
This Sunday the Hudson Warehouse Theater Company entertains Bard and brew lovers alike with the latest installment of its intoxicating series, Shakespeare in the Bar. At the P&G Corner Cafe on the Upper West Side, they will perform an unusual staged reading of The Taming of the Shrew with their usual gusto.
Audience and actors will share the same space, even the same tables. The character sitting next to you, quaffing an Amstel Light, might be one of Shakespeare's. You won't know until he or she stands up and starts talking in iambic pentameter.
"I got tired of the usual boring staged readings," said Hudson Warehouse founder and producing artistic director Nicholas Martin-Smith. "This is much more lively."
A natural outgrowth of the Warehouse's critically acclaimed summer productions at the Sailors and Soldiers' Monument, Shakespeare in the Bar seeks to create the same intimate, accessible atmosphere, not just for Shakespeare, but for other classics as well.
Last month the Warehouse performed The Seagull in the bar and the audience was surprised to discover so many laughs. "The play's suffering is only apparent if you have the humor," said Martin-Smith. "Playing it in an intimate setting relaxed people and brought the humor out."
Since January of last year, Warehouse fans have also imbibed Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Richard II, Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor, which gave theater-goers a chance to hoist a few alongside Shakespeare's most famous drunk, Falstaff.
Hudson Warehouse was founded in 2004 to present the classics to as wide an audience as possible, which it attracts every summer to the steps of the Sailors and Soldiers Monument, at West 89th and Riverside Drive. They perform three plays, one Shakespeare and two others, billing themselves as the Other Free Shakespeare in the Park. But theirs are more interactive.
"The space is open to anyone who uses the park," said Martin-Smith. "Joggers, dog walkers, bike messengers -- anyone who comes through becomes part of the action."
Martin-Smith said that settings such as a park or a bar not only don't detract from the classics, they enhance them. "The spontaneity, casualness and comfort inspire the actors," he said. "They are compelled to do something different."
Future Shakespeare in the Bar productions include Titus Andronicus on March 13 (where a Bloody Mary would be appropriate) and Moliere's Tartuffe on April 10.
The Hudson Warehouse Theater Company performs The Taming of the Shrew at the P&G Corner Cafe, 380 Columbus Avenue, nr. 78th Street. 2:00 gathering, 3:00 reading. Free admission, donations accepted. No drink minimum. But as Chekhov said, if you introduce a beer in the first act, you must drink it by the third. Further info is at www.hudsonwarehouse.net.