Thursday, August 23, 2018

Theatre in the Parks

Outdoor theatres are always fun (in good weather). This summer, the Delacorte in Central Park hosted fine productions of Othello and Twelfth Night, and the Richard Rogers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park was used for a compelling Antigone.

However, it can sometimes be even more enjoyable to see an outdoor play in a space that isn't designed for theatre at all. The best such play I saw this summer was Romeo and Juliet, performed in the north end of Central Park by New York Classical Theatre. The production used only six actors and LOTS of doubling. I remember seeing the young woman playing Sampson at the beginning and thinking, "She's brilliant! She's totally wasted on a small role like Sampson!" Well, she ended up also being Juliet.

Sadly, that production is no longer running, but if you hurry, you can still see Torn Out Theater's production of The Rover, playing through August 26th at the Music Pagoda in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. The production uses selective nudity to bring out the raunchiness in the Aphra Behn classic. As the characters indulge in the festive Carnival, the masks come on and the clothing comes off. This is particularly revealing for the character of the beautiful courtesan Angelica, played in this production by Colin James Ferguson. Seeing him play Angelica as a woman, even after all of the trappings of femininity have been torn away, makes a not-so-subtle point about the arbitrary nature of gender.

Tonight, I saw Hudson Warehouse's production of Hamlet at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Riverside Park. The monument's steps provide seating for the audience, but unfortunately some of those steps are unavailable due to a chainlink fence keeping people away from the monument until the city can scrape up the money to make needed repairs. As a result, some members of the audience are invited to sit on benches to the side of the playing area. I did this, which made me reflect on how in past centuries, wealthy lords were sometimes invited to sit on the stage, being seen as well as seeing. I was warned not to sit too near to the edge of the bench, however, lest I get splashed by stage blood.

New York's parks are filled with spaces that while not built to be theatres can still easily play host to a stage production. It would be nice to see even more of them utilized!