This is the busy month for Shakespeareans in New York. The spring shows ring their curtains down (let's hope for a downtown revival of Bedlam's Twelfth Night + What You Will) and summer shows start their warm-ups. Here's the hubbub in May:
A staging of Molière's most difficult, atypical comedy. He still gives you a rascally servant of an egotistical master who gets what he deserves. But instead of bourgeois hijinks, Don Juan raises a popular character to the level of myth. Like Marlowe's Faustus (below), Molière's Juan wrestles with damnation and earthly pleasures—ultimately it sides with the later, albeit with a strong dose of irony. No notes on the production, except to point out that the Pearl has been rejuvenated by its move to 42nd Street near the Hudson (Signature's old space). Though the audience is still dusty, the shows aren't.
(May 5 - Jun 7)
Classic Stage Company
Christopher Marlowe swipped the autumn from Shakespeare with a memorable epic staging of Tamburlaine pts 1 & 2. This month his legendary tragedy gets a remount for NYC audiences. This is the Elizabethan ur-play, the one that lifted theater to another level. Problem is, the grand speeches about the cosmos and damnation are interrupted by SFX and clowning. That's why it's been done maybe twice in NYC in living memory: in 1965, and before that by a kid named Welles for the WPA in 1937. Chris Noth, of all actors, takes the title role. The closest he's come to classical theater is some Shaw in 1990…
(May 29 - July 2)
Roy Arias Stages
Twenty-something Shakespeareans do several shots and then stage a semi-improvised play. Or as they bill it, "a company of professional drinkers with a serious Shakespeare problem." A minor phenomenon in the Theater District, Drunk Shak is the sort of fun gimmick that proves NYC can find a place for hardworking thespians even when they don't have connections or a budget. It runs all summer long, a potential rainy-day alternative to free Shakespeare in the parks.
(May -Sept 6)
Classic Stage Company
In Austin Pendleton’s staging at CSC, Prince Hamlet (Peter Sarsgaard) follows an invisible spirit offstage then circles back moments later with his course set for vengeance. Throughout this production, Pendleton isn’t just banking on his audience’s familiarity with the play, he’s demanding it. His staging only works, when it works at all, through prior knowledge. At times it even seems like a Hamlet in quotes, a sort of three-hour setpiece. It’s abstruse, remote, and finally inaccessible. More words here!
(thru May 10)
Mobile Shakespeare Unit (Public Th.)
There's accessible Shakespeare and then there's the Mobile Shakespeare Unit. This program, run by the Public, literally stages shows out of a van! The team will schlep Will's great tragedy out to community centers, prisons, and homeless shelters around the five boroughs in early May. Then they'll come home to Lafayette for a brief run. The staging is bare-bones (a boom box usually provides music), but the playing (invariably by a diverse cast) is always clear and brisk. The price can't be beat—$20 at the door. And one of my favorite under-known Shakespearean actors, Jennifer Ikeda, plays the Lady of the play!
(May 17-Jun 7)
Broadway (St. James Th.)
A fluffy musical comedy set in the Elizabethan theater, Something Rotten is notable mainly for being a Broadway show not based on some prior work. Instead it imagines a pair of Elizabethan playwrights who anachronistically invent musical theater to compete with Will Shakespeare. So Rotten isn’t exactly groundbreaking: this is the schticky sub-genre of musicals-about-musicals (e.g. The Producers, Spamalot). The creative team is a question mark, with the musical elements coming from Hollywood types; a book by a big-in-Britain comedy writer; and direction/choreo by Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon). The big draw is Christian Borle, who earned his Tony for Peter & the Starcatcher, and who here plays the Bard, but Brian d’Arcy James is no slouch onstage either.
Shakespeare in the Park (Public Th.)
The Delacorte, the quintessential Shak in the Park, turns into an island paradise for its first offering. Sam Waterston has probably lost count of his appearances there—the first was As You Like It in 1963 and the last, I believe, was Polonius in 2008. Here he plays Prospero, natch, which he played to infamously bad reviews way back in the early 1970s (his Miranda was Carol Kane!). Michael Greif directs—he once did a lovely R&J at the Delacorte, so this should look picturesque and play well.
(May 27-Jul 5)
Red Bull Theater
at the Duke on 42nd St.
One of the essential English classics that gets crowded out by Shakespeare's dominance. It offers a great pair of leads—its last NYC revival in '92 had Val Kilmer and Jeanne Tripplehorn at the Public—plus some honestly great poetry, dark dark psychology, and several astonishing scenes. Usually (but aptly) described as "What if Romeo and Juliet were siblings?", Tis Pity is decadent but ironic about it: the incestuous couple are just about the only heroic models in a corrupt Italian court. And the Red Bull can be relied on for an inventive sense of theatricality and willingness to get dark. And Tis Pity is dark even by Jacobean standards. Plus it's got one of the most memorable titles in theater history!
(April 14 - May 16)
What You Will
at the Dorothy Strelsin Th.
Twelfth Night, a play that revels in gender ambiguity, is perfectly suited to Bedlam’s fluid method of staging classics. They dub one version What You Will while its twin, Twelfth Night, plays in rep—same cast, different roles. To make the play even more protean, the company double-cast Viola in one version, and swap her gender in the other. More words here and there, plus an interview!
(thru May 2)
at Th. for a New Audience
Fiasco pivots quickly from an acclaimed Into the Woods to present the rare Two Gentlemen. This company made a strong impression a few seasons ago with Cymbeline of all plays, and their Woods extended their style into a non-Shak avenue. The tight camaraderie of the ensemble, a flair for play-acting and for imaginative use of props and bodies, and an approach that foregrounds character rather than versification all make Fiasco a distinctive and potentially trend-setting company. They’ve picked a challenge with Two Gentlemen. It’s a very early one in Shak’s career, full of self-serious poetic romance and broad clowning comedy. It’s very rare to see—in fact, it’s one of only three plays by our man that I’ve never seen! So I’m looking especially forward to seeing what Fiasco does with it.
(April 24 - May 24)
Wolf Hall, pts. 1 & 2
Royal Shakespeare Company
on Broadway (Winter Garden Th.)
I'd include Wolf Hall just because it's the RSC. But the first novel in Hilary Mantel's historical series also covers the same period of history as Henry the 8th, from Cardinal Wolsey's alliance with France to the birth of Anne Boleyn's daughter Elizabeth. More generally, Mantel follows Shak in the way she dramatizes history. This double bill plays out a set of tragic arcs in the English kingdom, by staging a succession of political maneuvers over a decade-plus of time. On the RSC tip, this production is up for several Olivier Awards: best new play and lighting design, plus director Jeremy Herron, and Nathaniel Parker for his King Henry. As a lover of history plays, I'm looking forward to this one. See also my historical guide on Playbill Online!
(thru July 5)
Lincoln Center Festival
Irish innovators take on the classic English history cycle
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot
The free urban Shak celebrates its new LES 'home' and 20th anniversary with a comedy
National Theatre Live
Chiwetel Ejiofor seeks salvation in the epitome of medieval drama
Lincoln Center Festival
Cheek by Jowl visits NYC with a classic burlesque of authority & Macbeth
Shakespeare in the Park (Public Th.)
Jul 27-Aug 23
Hamish Linklater & Lily Rabe return to Central Park with Dan Sullivan
Jul 30-Aug 15
This free summer Shak returns, having survived the loss of its LES space (more condos!)
Sep 8-Oct 31
Eric Tucker of Bedlam casts 5 actors to play Puck and co.
Everyone's favorite Cumberbatch plays Hamlet in London, you watch him in Manhattan
A musical based on Much Ado, with music by Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong (?!)
F. Murray Abraham plays a Jew; the play's a 18th-c. German response to Shylock
CSC partners with Columbia Drama's grad students to stage Shak for younger audiences
King and Country: Shakespeare's Great Cycle of Kings
RSC at BAM
March 24 - May 1, 2016
David Tennant is the matinee draw as Richard 2, with Antony Sher's Falstaff for ballast