Often, when New Yorkers think of theatre in Central Park, they think of the Public's Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theatre. Flying under the radar of the Delacorte, however, are other theatrical happenings taking place in the nooks and crannies of Central Park. One of these lesser-known jewels is the New York Classical Theatre, who have been performing their signature "panoramic theatre" in public outdoor spaces such as Central Park, Prospect Park and Battery Park since 2000. Under the artistic direction of Founder Stephen Burdman, the New York Classical Theatre has most recently applied their panoramic style (a roving, interactive experience that adapts each script to its location) to Shakespeare's As You Like It. While staging moveable theatre in a park has its obvious difficulties -- such as lighting, sound, and seat comfort -- the overall experience of As You Like It is a delightful summer treat for all ages.
The performances in this play deserve special applause. While some of the movement is a bit grandiose, this is probably an attempt to fill the unique and sprawling space of Central Park-as-stage. The cast works together to keep energy high and the pace clipping. Rin Allen breathes new life into the cross-dressing Rosalind, delivering her lines with vocal color and physical playfulness. Clay Storseth delivers Jaques' beloved "All The World's a Stage" monologue with insightful nuance. Also notable is Antoinette Robinson's sassy Phoebe. Overall, the ensemble has an excellent command of Shakespearean language, making the plotline accessible to even the most inexperienced Shakespeare audiences.
New York Classical Theatre employs crafty design techniques to overcome the obstacles of staging As You Like It outdoors. Once the sun goes down, company interns whip out an arsenal of flashlights to light the action. While only partially effective in illuminating the faces of the actors, this makeshift lighting technique creates a magical, "summer camp" type of atmosphere that trumps any expensive lighting system in town. Similarly, without amplification, the actors must use extra projection to compete with the rich soundscape of the park: birds, crowds of tourists, people on cell phones, passing ambulances, etc. These moments of aural interference, however, only enhance the excitement created by the re-articulation of a public space like Central Park. As you move from scene to scene, be sure to sit close to the action so you can catch most of the lines spoken by the talented performers. Also, since you will be sitting on the ground, bringing a picnic blanket might not be a bad idea.
Unlike the Shakespeare in the Park series at the Delacorte, audiences need not wait in long lines to get tickets. New York Classical Theatre productions are completely free and you can show up at any time to join. For anyone who enjoys both serious theatre and summer fun, As You Like It is an enchanting summer treat.
Performances of As You Like It runs at Central Park (West 103rd Street and Central Park West) on Thursdays through Sundays until June 22. Performances in Prospect Park (Long Meadow near the Picnic House - 5th Street and Prospect Park West) run every night, June 24–29. Performances in Battery Park (meet in front of Castle Clinton) run Tuesday through Sunday, July 1– 27. All performances are free, begin promptly at 7 p.m., and last two hours. For more information, call 212-252-4531 or visit www.newyorkclassical.org.