Wednesday, 6/3/14:  opening day for Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte—the urbaneer's version of a camping trip. First, the wildlife—a lady getting off the subway at 71st Street swings her fist into my balls:

“Hey, you just hit me, lady!”

(Unapologetic) “Sorry.” 

(I drop my pen into the tracks.) “Well, it hurt.”

She reaches toward her unseen boyfriend, as if giving a refined high-five or taking a bow at ABT.  Pent up aggression after a long, cold winter in the city?  Just wait until July:  temperatures are now only in the mid-seventies.  The thought goes through my mind, as I walk up to the park: “Narcissists are never wrong.”

Here’s what I’m seeing: Lime green and yellow, the colors for Shakespeare in the Park this year; the plays are Much Ado About Nothing–with Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater—Jack O’Brien directs.  This production plays from 6/3-7/6–the Stage Voices review will be written further into the run.  John Lithgow will star in King Lear, 7/22-8/11, directed by Daniel Sullivan). One rule, regarding the Shakespeare in the Park line, which I was unaware of–having been booted off the Pacino standby for this transgression several years ago:  You can now allow a friend to join you in this line until 6:00 pm.   “Really six.  You show up five minutes after 6:00.  Forget it,” #8 tells me (I’m first in line today).  Other ways to get tickets? Distribution in your borough, donation to the Public, and a ticket lottery:–Events/Shakespeare-in-the-Park/Free-Virtual-Ticketing-Lottery/?SiteTheme=Shakespeare .  Somebody says there’s a video from the Public on Facebook.

Beer, wine, frozen Sangria, gourmet hot dogs, snacks, and sweets are on sale near the box office.  “Actually a good deal,” says a producer on a cell phone.  Think you can beat the prices at a food cart?  Two dollars for a bottle of water this year, as you go toward the Great Lawn. I remember when they were $1.00—and then I remember when the preferred drink was not water.  As umbrellas cannot be used in the Delacorte, rain ponchos today are $15.00 through the Public concession stand; last year they were $10.00—and they say there’s no inflation.  Actually, it did rain in the early evening—but after a small delay, the show went on. “We will never cancel a show before 8:00,” says Tracy, monitor of the line.  She told me that several years before, she had camped in the park overnight to see a play.  Today we start the line on the new mulch area at the first rock (not the rock of “no hope,” which is farther back and around a bend). As always, you can sit on the grass or blacktop—or the bench.  “I don’t mind sitting on grass if we’re further down,” a woman of early number says, who is balancing on a rock–now we aren’t completely sure of who has what number anymore.

I’m noticing more lipstick on young women:  really red. Men’s hair is short. Some muscled boys—the 30 percent figure for overweight Americans does not seem wrong, though. It’s the first day of summer where we “own” or “own up” to our bodies. Mother to a young daughter, caught in a gaggle of teens (one bouncing a basketball):  “Please, don’t ever act like this when you’re a teenager.”  Mother leaving her daughter to return to Denmark: “Tonight we will see Newsies.” Little kids wear tie-dyes; young women with canvas bags, sandals; others in torn jeans; tattoos.  A lot of tattoos.  A lot of kids, too, as schools had a half-day due to the Regents. More City vehicles in the Park than I remember, as well; golf carts and dogs. I’m thinking that nobody much talks about who pays for the upkeep of the land we’re on or on which the theatrical company plays.  What is the city’s, taxpayer contribution to the Public’s offerings?  Is it really free?  It gets lost in the self-congratulating celebrity and corporate plantation mentality, as well as the sometimes arrogant Public interns deigning to bring Shakespeare to the masses.

Little noted also is the contradiction that the Delacorte, between the Upper West and East sides, is not especially accessible to the underprivileged or the demographically unrepresented.  Instead, you’ll see a lot of white people, mostly women.  Producer and director Joseph Papp was actually suspicious of having a theatre in Central Park; instead he preferred a mobile unit for the boroughs (it’s still active).  Like Macy’s, he created a publicity machine for his flagship downtown and let New Yorkers publicize what they liked best:  themselves. 

“Whenever I see Shakespeare I have to get the story behind the story,” says the woman balancing on the rock. We try to recall the plot line of Much Ado About Nothing in the afternoon heat—but the only thing seemingly bigger and more unfocused than Shakespeare may be a summer day in Central Park.  We hear tales about new cameras, owned by the Public, which can actually tell if you’ve been on line, as if the NSA was not enough.  Apparently, there was a scam where homeless men got on line early in the morning, received tickets and then sold them through a Web site.  Even I ran into a scalper several years ago—trying to see Pacino–but, apparently, the people who oversee the line are good at remembering faces.  They want to get everyone out of the park by 11:00pm #7 tells us.  Numbers 3 and 4 are a young couple, and #10 hopes that in the evening he will sit next to #3.    

“I hope that’s firecrackers,” says #8.   We look at a dark cloud in the west.  It could be so far in the distance, it’s going in another direction.”  We decide that we will persevere, although I receive a call from a friend in New Jersey who says that I must be crazy.  “You have to take risks,” I say, not sure of what I’m saying because, besides being outside in the heat, we are discussing the death of a friend the previous day.  Number 7 then says that they will always present a show unless it poses harm for the cast or the audience (so no one gets electrocuted from the sky or lighting). 

Number 8 is recalling that there had been intermittent rain during Romeo and Juliet a few years back—finally, she left when it started again near the end, although they probably continued when the downpour stopped.  Replacement tickets are never given, due to the weather—but she felt she’d seen enough to know where the story was going.  Acuweather is the preferred outlet to get weather reports, according to #7, as it is updated more than Apple.  A guy then tells us he knows a cast member–and then the cast member actually comes out to see him:  "Break a leg.  Sprain an ankle." (The actor in question wears a bandana during the production.)

When the tickets finally come, it will be like crossing Checkpoint Charlie into West Berlin, I am fantasizing.  Also I’m thinking about all those years I felt so guilty about being kicked off the Pacino line.  And then it dawns on me, the reason why I’ve been coming to Shakespeare in the Park since the early ‘80s . . . is probably because, when it works, you’ve had a chance to see the emotional trajectory of the human heart in one day, in one setting.  It's Aristotelian. 

Forget the advertising about getting a show for free.  You get two–at least. 

© 2014 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.


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