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The Play's The Thing, But It's Not The Only Thing

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If it ever stops raining, which I'm sure it will someday, I am going to celebrate by going to the greatest thing about New York - Shakespeare in the Park. This year the show is Twelfth Night (which I'm pretty sure I've never seen), with Anne Hathaway, Raul Esparza, Audra MacDonald and Julie White, but it almost doesn't matter who's in it because the experience of sitting out on a summer night in the world's most beautiful park in the middle of New York City watching a play that is absolutely free is the moment I always feel, I can't believe I get to live here.

There are many other things that give me that feeling - the 14th Street Greenmarket, the frozen custard at the Shake Shack, the air-conditioning on the subways, the red-tailed hawks, the Chrysler Building, to name a few - but it all seems to crystallize on those nights in the Delacorte Theater.

Anything can happen at Shakespeare in the Park. Herons land on stage. Planes fly over. This year, I read in the papers, a raccoon wandered onstage. Sometimes the actors forget their lines, and sometimes they break up laughing; it doesn't make any difference. The sheer exuberance of the cast - and, as I said, the fact that the show is absolutely free - makes the audience absolutely giddy. And it's such a completely obvious and satisfying metaphor for New York, or at least our idealized version of it -- as the cultural capital of the world that anyone can come to and be welcome in.

Every play at Shakespeare in the Park benefits from an entirely unconnected and thrillingly-suspenseful subplot - the question of whether it will rain before the evening ends. Two years ago, we saw a Romeo and Juliet that stopped short before the lovers died, and no one cared. Last year, at Hair, the heavens exploded at the exact moment the audience rose to cheer at the end of the play. Only the least hardy were daunted: most of the audience joined the cast onstage and danced with the players, soaking wet.

Shakespeare in the Park: go to Publictheater.org for showtimes. And bring your umbrella.

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