And we all know what that means—Shakespeare in the Park! In the real Park, the one and only Central Park, the tone looks a little higher than usual. The Public Theater will present Measure for Measure and All’s Well that Ends Well in repertory. The Public deserves kudos for putting on these dark plays together, especially during the summer. They’re often linked—they’re two of the three “problem plays,” after all—but is it mere coincidence that the last time they were presented in the Park was together, fully eighteen years ago in 1993?
My one visit to Shakespeare in the Park was to that Measure for Measure, which I consider Shakespeare’s most underrated play. I recall an A-list cast (Kevin Kline as the Duke, Andre Braugher as Angelo) losing a valiant struggle to a misguided reggae/Caribbean staging. When you see a production of Measure for Measure that ends with the whole cast prancing offstage in a conga line, you know something’s gone very wrong. This interview with David Esbjornson, the director of this year’s production, holds forth hope that it’ll be far superior, even without a name performer in the cast, although I wouldn’t expect it to efface the 2005 all-male staging by the Shakespeare’s Globe company; Mark Rylance’s performance as the Duke, like his Cleopatra, almost made me forgive his Oxfordianism.
All’s Well is a tougher crack because the hero, Bertram, gives Coriolanus a stiff run for his money as Shakespeare’s least likeable main character. The production notes clearly look like this staging will take the logical course, focusing on Helena instead of Bertram, though this brings the sticky question what she could possibly see in him front and center. (Both sets of production notes—here is Measure for Measure’s—are hilariously overwritten; do have a look.)
The only thing I wonder about: when did Central Park start closing between 1 and 6 a.m.? Yes, possums, people really do queue half a day in advance for those precious tickets, though I know from experience—not mine, alas—that it’s possible to sashay in at the last minute and get a seat. I think you just have to look sexy enough. (I do recall some feeble efforts to keep Washington Square Park closed during those hours back in Giuliani Time, but never Central Park.)
Meanwhile, Toronto’s counterpart to Shakespeare in the Park, the Dream in High Park series, is tackling The Winter’s Tale, the only play of Shakespeare’s as underrated as Measure for Measure. I may see it, since I hope to be discussing the Winter’s Tale with you some time this summer, but I’ve been underwhelmed by the Comedy of Errors and Midsummer Night’s Dream I’ve seen there. Word of mouth on their Romeo and Juliet last summer was so bad I didn’t even think about going. Any company that can screw up The Comedy of Errors has no business within shouting distance of late Shakespeare, but we’ll see. I only wish the wonderful Shakespeare in the Rough had not dropped off the face of the Earth.