THE BLOG
07/25/2011 04:50 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2011

The Shoemaker / Shakespeare in the Park: The Problem Plays

In an old-fashioned shoemaker's shop, to the sounds of opera from an antique radio, Danny Aiello sits head in hands. A woman (Alma Cuervo) barges in to say, I need a new sole. The pun signals: this shop strewn with shoes and old photos on the walls including one of an iconic pile of bones is a holy sanctuary in Susan Charlotte's play, The Shoemaker, at the Acorn Theater, directed by Antony Marsellis. An ambitious effort that also features a pair of pumps, a young woman caught in the drama of 9/11, and a voice from Holocaust era Italy (Michael Twaine), The Shoemaker is about, as the playwright said on opening night, walking out the door.

At the after party where Robert Klein did impersonations of famed publicist John Springer, amusing other guests June Springer and Louise Lasser, Aiello who has an album coming out -- a combo of standards with rap -- said he worked with the playwright to expand the one-acter to a full length play. LA bred Lucy Devito who plays the young woman said her parents, Rhea Perlman and Danny Devito will soon see her performance. They will be proud.

This being the time in summer when romantic comedies hit the big screens (i.e. Friends with Benefits and Crazy Stupid Love), this is also a good time to catch the final week of Shakespeare's "problem" plays in repertory at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

In Shakespeare's comedies, who will be married to whom, and how, despite all obstacles, is the central question. In All's Well That Ends Well one of the bard's most attractive if wrongheaded heroines, Helena (a lovely Annie Parisse), does what she can to get her man.

Not for nothing is All's Well considered a problem play, a category reserved for Shakespeare's work that is not comedy, tragedy, or history. In this production, as directed by Daniel Sullivan, women clad in fecund green dance at the opening party. Helena stands out in black, like a Cinderella at the ball wearing ashen garb. The love of her life, Bertram (Andre Holland) is going off to war, and if nothing else, this production emphasizes Shakespeare's distaste for that useless activity of men.

Yes, Helena gets her man but our audiences get: what a dubious blessing that is in the end.

Measure for Measure starts out with a nightmare complete with devilish cats. Director David Esbjornson and the creative team teased out the kinky with chest chiseled breastplates, and that's just on the men. Where All's Well could be demure, the Measure for Measure production is deliciously over the top. Don't miss it.

This post also appears on Gossip Central.