This year, The Public Theater is producing three big-budget plays at the Delacorte in Central Park: Much Ado About Nothing, Coriolanus, and a stage adaptation of the Disney movie Hercules, the last of the three done as part of the theater's Public Works program. However, there are plenty of other great shows to see in the parks this summer, including New York Classical Theatre's delightful new production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
Last night, I saw the classic Oscar Wilde comedy at the north end of in Central Park. Ushers greet you at the entrance at 103rd Street and Central Park West. Bring a blanket or a low folding chair, but make sure it's easy to carry, as you'll be moving from place to place. Each act is performed at a different location around the pond.
And be prepared for a potential surprise. I saw the show with the manly Ademide Akintilo playing Algernon while the charmingly feminine Connie Castanzo played Cecily. However, every other performance, they switch roles, so he plays Cecily, and she plays Algernon. All the other cast members switch roles as well, so every other performance is gender-swapped, which must be rather interesting, to say the least.
The Importance to Being Earnest is only playing until June 16th in Central Park. From June 18th to 23rd, the production will move to Brooklyn Bridge Park at Pier 1. Then, from June 25th through 30th, they'll be at Carl Schurz Park at East 86th Street in Manhattan. You can get more information and sign up for rain cancellation notices here.
Wherever you see it, and whether with a traditional cast or with the roles reversed, do make sure you get to the show. The cast, which includes Jed Peterson and Kristen Calgaro as Jack and Gwendolen, and Tina Stafford and Clay Storseth as Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble, is excellent. I saw Kate Goehring as a wonderful Lady Bracknell and John Michalski as a deadpan Merriman, but they might be just as good when they switch roles!
William Shakespeare is a perennial favorite for outdoor productions, and tomorrow night Hudson Warehouse is opening a new production of Antony and Cleopatra at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Riverside Park at 89th Street. As is the case with New York Classical Theatre, they pass a basket, and it's pay-what-you-can. Starting July 4th in the same location, Hudson Warehouse will be putting on a stage adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel The Man in the Iron Mask, and in August they'll be back to Shakespeare with The Merry Wives of Windsor.
If Coriolanus and The Merry Wives of Windsor aren't your cup of tea, and you're looking for more familiar Shakespeare territory, Black Henna Productions is doing Hamlet, Viking Prince of Denmark in parks throughout Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn this month. Also, Smith Street Stage will be doing Romeo and Juliet in Carroll Park, and starting in July Hip to Hip Theatre Company will be doing traveling productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Richard III.
For those who are tired of work by that upstart crow Shakespeare, The Classical Theatre of Harlem is doing a real classic, The Bacchae by Euripides this July in Marcus Garvey Park. Last summer, they did a great job with Sophocles's Antigone, so it should be worth seeing, and once again, donations are appreciated, but there is no admission charged. For those who complain that theatre is too expensive in New York, this summer offers an appropriate response.