The Bard and the Brits
Free Shakespeare, competing fringe festivals, and a Hot! month of queer performance--it must be summertime in New York City. Although most Broadway and Off-Broadway shows either end their seasons or wind down by mid-June, the months of July and August continue to provide exciting theatergoing opportunities--and generally at a lower budget than typical Broadway fare.
For example, what would summer be without free Shakespeare in the Park? The New York Shakespeare Festival/Joseph Papp Public Theater celebrates its 45th season with productions of The Winter's Tale (June 21 through July 16), and Julius Caesar (August 8 through September 3), both at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Brian Kulick directs the first production, with a cast including Randy Danson, Keith David, Aunjanue Ellis, and Bronson Pinchot. It's not quite as star-studded as some previous Shakespeare in the Park productions (Patrick Stewart in The Tempest; André Braugher in Henry V), but Kulick's vision as a director is certainly something to look forward to, as is the opportunity to see one of Shakespeare's later romantic plays. "One of the greatest things about Shakespeare is how he uses language," says Kulick. "He'll juxtapose one word or one image off of another and create a different kind of friction. In the later plays, that sort of work is done in terms of a whole play structure--putting opposites together to see what kind of spark they'll make. It becomes part of the strategy."
The free outdoor performances of Shakespeare in the Park are, in and of themselves, a winning strategy, with tickets distributed in all five New York City boroughs. "I don't know anybody that has anything but incredible fondness for just the idea of going out, having picnics, and watching Shakespeare plays under the stars, and the moon, and Belvedere Castle," says Barry Edelstein, who will direct Julius Caesar. "It's just fantastic." Edelstein, who is also Artistic Director of Classic Stage Company (CSC), is no stranger to Shakespeare: he says he has either directed or dramaturged over half of the Bard's plays.
The classics are also important to the Aquila Theater Company London/New York, the first British/American Equity-approved Off-Broadway company. Aquila reprises its critically-acclaimed production of Homer's The Iliad: Book One from June 29 through August 6. It will be presented in rotating repertory with Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors at Hemmerdinger Hall. In addition, the company's production of Cyrano de Bergerac begins performances August 17 at Clark Studio, on Lincoln Center Plaza.
Plays and Players
A few doors down, Lincoln Center Theater's much anticipated production of Rebecca Gilman's Spinning Into Butter is currently in previews, with an opening set for July 27. The play examines racism on a college campus from the perspective of a young white female dean (played by Hope Davis). Daniel Sullivan--whose most recent credits include the critically-acclaimed productions of A Moon for the Misbegotten, Dinner with Friends--directs this hard-hitting look at white guilt.
Eighteen leading African-American playwrights are showcased in Great Black One-Acts 2000, produced by Woodie King Jr.'s National Black Touring Circuit. Alice Childress, Ed Bullins, Amiri Baraka, Langston Hughes, and Pearl Cleage are just a few of the dramatists represented in this festival running from July 5 through August 6 at the Henry Street Settlement's Abrons Arts Center. "We received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to do 50 years of one-act plays from 1950 to the present," explains King. "And we've got one of the best ensemble of actors, as well as some of the best designers, and best directors."
King also heads The New Federal Theater, which is currently premiering Samm-Art Williams' The Dance on Widow's Row through July 23 at their home at the Henry Street Settlement. "The comedy in the play is bittersweet and poignant, with a lot of pathos in it," says King. "I think [Williams] is a master of the comedic element in black life." The play tells the tale of four rich widows who have buried nine husbands between them. (They're rumored to have killed their spouses, so potential suitors should be wary!)
For a different take on matrimonial difficulties, try Bill C. Davis' Avow, which previews at the Century Center beginning July 14, and an opening set for July 27. In this play, Davis, best known for his 1980 play Mass Appeal, tackles the subject of same-sex marriage when two men ask a progressive priest to bless their union. The ensemble cast includes Christopher Sieber, Scott Ferrara, Alan Campbell, Sarah Knowlton, and Jane Powell. Jack Hofsiss directs.
Speaking of theater notables, Philip Seymour Hoffman goes Off-Off Broadway to direct the LAByrinth Theater Company's production of Jesus Hopped the A Train at Center Stage. Stephen Adly Guirgis' prison-courtroom-comic drama runs from July 18 through August 12.