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For Shakespeare Company, All New York's a Stage

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This summer is truly the season of the Brits in New York City. Not only has the Murdoch hacking scandal brought England and its institutions -- the Scotland Yard, Fleet Street and Downing Street -- to our headlines, but the fine actors of Britannia are ruling the city's summer theatrical scene as well.



The six-week run by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Park Avenue Armory, which ends Aug. 14, has proven to be hugely successful. According to the Lincoln Center Festival, which is presenting the company at the armory, 31 of 44 scheduled performances sold out as of last week, and just a handful of tickets remain for the others.



"Only six weeks and everyone wants to seem them," said a man sitting behind me as the lights went down on the July 20th performance of As You Like It in an intimate, three-level theater, a replica of the troupe's Stratford-Upon-Avon home that was erected inside the armory's massive drill hall.



What followed was a charming production which transported audience members far from the oppressive heat wave happening outside. The actors guided us into the chilly confines of the Forest of Arden where the romantic shenanigans of Orlando, Rosalind and the others played out.



At one point, stagehands sprinkled fake snow from the rafters, imaginary balm on a night when New Yorkers were flocking to any place with air conditioning.



For the presenters, which also include the armory and Ohio State University, the popularity of the RSC run shows there is room for more Shakespeare in the city even during summer months when New Yorkers have any number of local productions to choose from, many of them free and staged outside. 



Most famously is the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park, which this season presented Measure for Measure and All's Well that Ends Well at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.



But as ticket sales for the Royal Shakespeare Company showed, the presence of a top-flight troupe based in the playwright's hometown seems to be lure enough for audiences seeking a summer Shakespeare fix.



"The level of interest in this engagement has been tremendous," said Peter Duffin, Lincoln Center's vice president of brand and marketing. Tickets range from $25, available through a weekly lottery, to a top price of $215.



"New Yorkers have a tremendous appetite and affinity for Shakespeare," said Rebecca Robertson, president of the Park Avenue Armory, a hunger the venue was banking on to fill seats during the residency.



What makes the experience even more special, Robertson said, is the staging in the replica theater, which the company brought from England and assembled here. Entering the drill hall, theatergoers are directed up ramps. Once inside, you quickly forget you are sitting in a temporary structure built inside a 55,000-square-foot drill hall that has served as host to tennis matches, antique fairs and art installations.

"

There is no other place where one can see the Royal Shakespeare Company as you would in their own home -- where every seat is no more than 15 meters from the stage and where the audience feels as though they are part of the action -- unless you travel to England," Robertson said. 



And how are the actors faring in New York? A New York Daily News article described how they spent a day off at a Mets game, making their stay in New York a true cultural exchange.