“Much Ado About Nothing” in Central Park

I’ve been to see a Public Theater production twice, and both times involved an element of luck. The first time was two years ago, when a friend of mine won a Twitter contest through her intimate knowledge of musical theater history and quick Twitter skills, and I was lucky enough to be her plus one to see “Into the Woods”.

The second time was last Friday.

I’d just been to see “Macbeth” at the Park Avenue Armory, and in my post I mentioned that I wanted to see the Shakespeare in the Park production of “Much Ado About Nothing” soon, as a palate cleanser. My friend who went to “Macbeth” with me felt the same way and suggested we try to get standby tickets on Friday since it was still early in the show’s run. She planned to take a half day at work and would be able to get in line early.

But on Friday, things weren’t looking good. It was pouring rain as I left for work and the weather report promised a thunderstorm right when the show was supposed to begin at 8 p.m. My friend had more work to do than anticipated, we didn’t win tickets through the online lottery, and neither we nor the other friends who wanted to come with us felt like standing in line in the rain. So we came up with an alternate plan: meet at the theater after work and see what the line looked like.

We walked up to the Box Office around 5:15, and there was no line. Literally, there were no people standing outside. It wasn’t raining, but the sky was beginning to look threatening, which might be why there were still tickets left at the box office. They were single seats, all near each other, and we took the tickets and went to find food, still a bit shocked that we’d gotten tickets without having to stand in line at all.

The sky looked increasingly ominous, so after picking up some plastic ponchos at Duane Reade, we picked a restaurant at random and found ourselves eating at a bistro called Sugar and Plumm. It was expensive, as most sit-down places on the Upper West Side near the Natural History Museum seem to be, and frankly a little weird. It was candy-themed – you could buy chocolates and pastries to go, or order sweets like crepes and waffles off the menu all day, and there were candy mosaics on the walls – and as time went on, we saw a fair number of parents with small children. There was also a cocktails menu, which seemed like a weird choice for a place catering to young families – or maybe a perfect choice?

Anyway, it started to rain as soon as we sat down, full on pouring rain that quickly became a thunderstorm. By the time we headed back to Central Park at 7:30, the rain had let up slightly, though it rained harder as we got to the theater and stood under an overhang, waiting to go in. Sometime after 8 p.m. they let us in and we hovered near our seats, hoping to get some together. There were plenty of empty rows, and soon the ushers told the audience that we could move down and fill in empty seats if we wanted to. We chose seats ten rows or fewer from the stage, and center, and settled down to enjoy my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays.

The actors came out, talking and singing in Italian, as the prerecorded message about the history of Shakespeare in the Park was played (their reactions to hearing voices from on high were priceless), and as things got started we realized it was no longer raining. It stayed dry for the rest of the night.

The actors spoke the first line or two of the play in Italian (a little surreal for me, as I mostly understood them) before switching to English, and then put on a simply wonderful production. Lily Rabe as Beatrice’s voice was a little husky and sharp – I couldn’t tell if she always spoke that way, was putting it on for the character, or was actually sick, but it bothered me for a while and then I grew used to it. Her chemistry with Hamish Linklater’s Benedick, a floppy-haired, heavily bearded, goofy thinks-he’s-a-lady’s-man charmer, was great, and they really brought out both the humor of the play and the more serious side.

I liked Claudio, which rarely happens and which made his eventual betrayal of Hero that much more frustrating, and I disliked Don Pedro – which was great! So often he’s played as this affable prince who has everyone’s best interests at heart, and to see him played as more conscious of his status, and less trustworthy (Claudio’s fear that Pedro has woo’d Hero for himself seems almost plausible, especially given Benedick’s reading of the situation, which is usually played more tongue-in-cheek than it is here).

The set was beautiful but simple (see photo!) and the staging similarly straightforward, letting the words and story, as put across by these fabulous actors, be the clear focus of the production. I loved every minute of it – unsurprising, since it ismy favorite, but when you’re as attached to something as I am to “Much Ado”, there’s always the fear that a production will make a hash of it. Not this one – I highly recommend it, and I’m hoping to go again soon!

Have you been to see any productions in the park? Do you have tips or tricks for getting tickets?

PS I’m now crossposting these to Tumblr at notednyc.tumblr.com (as well as reblogging other  people’s interesting NYC-related posts). Have a Tumblr? Follow me! :)

2 Comments

  1. Ah!! You got really lucky! We sat out for Into the Woods tickets and then it rained and the show was cancelled. Luckily we got them in lottery a few days later but still. Super annoying. I'm visiting next weekend and we're hoping to get tickets via lottery but if not we're sitting out one of the days. Much Ado is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays so I really hope I get to see it!

  2. I hope you're able to get tickets! It was a lot of fun!!

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