Long Meadow Sites Serve as Settings for Shakespeare's Comedy
By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
And what is so rare as a day in June?
An evening in June with Shakespeare in the Park — the Brooklyn version, that is.
Central Park's Delacorte Theater is rightly celebrated as New York's Numero Uno outdoor Shakespeare site. But this week, Prospect Park offers audiences a taste of the Bard, free and al fresco — and it's delectable.
New York Classical Theatre, a traveling troupe, is staging “As You Like It,” a romp in the Forest of Arden with love-struck Rosalind, one the most endearing gender-bender heroines who ever trod the boards.
There aren't actually any boards to tread, though, no stage in this group's staging — just acres of open parkland.
The actors step onto the green grass of the Long Meadow, in the middle of folks flying kites and doing tai chi, with the last of the day's sunshine streaming down, and make magic happen.
In an instant, Orlando (Ian Antal) has his cruel older brother Oliver (Sid Solomon) in a headlock, and everyone in earshot is riveted.
At Tuesday's performance, which this writer attended, these able actors stopped kid soccer players in their tracks.
Every last member of the cast can command attention in the great outdoors without microphones, props or a set. And we do mean great outdoors.
Every 15 or 20 minutes, to signify a change of setting, actors march the audience up hill and down dale to various parts of the meadow.
If you're seeing Shakespeare on date night, we have three words of advice: Don't. Wear. Stilettos.
High heels and soft turf don't mix.
The 15-year-old theater company calls this staging style “Panoramic Theatre.”
This is tricky stuff to do right, but this gifted crew makes it look effortless.
It's entertaining and quite moving to experience Shakespeare in this intimate way — the characters close enough to touch, acting in natural light for most of the performance. (When darkness falls, theater staffers use flashlights as spotlights, which works well.)
In one scene Rosalind (a radiant Rin Allen) and cousin Celia (an equally luminous Connie Castanzo) plop themselves down in the middle of the audience to hide.
Later, the melancholy Jaques (Clay Storseth) leads the audience like a singing Pied Piper from one sit-down spot to another. By the way, his famous speech about the Seven Ages of Man comes off just right.
The theater group's founder, Stephen Burdman, ably directs. He uses a slimmed-down script that eliminates several minor characters (such as the vicar, Sir Oliver Mar-text) and shortens the play's running time to two hours — even with all the strolling between scenes.
“We that are true lovers run into strange capers,” as Touchstone the fool (played by John Robert Armstrong, who gets an A-plus) explains early in the proceedings.
Rosalind and Orlando, who has fallen for her, both wind up banished from their respective homes and flee to the Forest of Arden.
For safety's sake, witty Rosalind has disguised herself as a youthful page named Ganymede. In her guise as a guy, she lets Orlando practice his wooing skills.
“Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love,” she chides when he claims Rosalind's rejection would kill him.
In truth, though, the girl's been clobbered by that crazy little thing called love. After lots of fun and drama, there's a wedding scene at the end — the kind of happy ending that Shakespeare can make us believe in.
She and faithful Orlando and the people they love all dance to the music of their own a cappella singing — a little night music to share with their audience, under the stars. Bravo!
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If you go: Shakespeare's “As You Like It” runs nightly, through Sunday, June 29 in Prospect Park.
The play starts promptly at 7 p.m.
To find the initial gathering place, enter the park from Flatbush Avenue and Grand Army Plaza. Take the path that leads under Endale Arch — and look for theatre staffers with clipboards.
See www.newyorkclassical.org for a park map.
Admission is free. There are no tickets or advance reservations.
After that, the show moves to Battery Park for a July 1-27 stint, Tuesdays through Sundays.