Last night, for the first time since I moved to NYC seven years ago, I went to Shakespeare in the Park. Established in 1954 by Public Theatre founder Joseph Papp, Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre draws thousands each season to take part in free outdoor theater. Over the years, award-winning actors have gotten their starts on the famed stage, including (but not limited to) Martin Sheen, James Earl Jones, Meryl Streep, and Morgan Freeman. This year is no exception with regards to famous faces. I saw Much Ado About Nothing last night starring New York theater favorites, Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater as Beatrice and Benedick respectively. Other Broadway vets backing them up included Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell (who sings in this production, and took my breath away,) John Glover (pop culture crowds will recognize him from TV’s Smallville) and John Pankow. Game of Thrones fans will also recognize Pedro Pascal as yet another villain, Don John in this production.
First off, this is one of the best productions (as it should be) that I’ve seen of Much Ado About Nothing. From a purely aesthetic perspective, it was gorgeous to look at. From the sets to the costumes, to the lighting, it was a real treat for the eyes. A production like Much Ado probably benefits from being in an outdoor theater. The stage incorporated many aspects of nature including a vegetable garden and an orange tree. I think it increased believably for me as an audience member because we were actually outside. The costumes were the best I’ve seen to fit this production. Again, it made the setting and time period extremely believable and visually pleasing.
Now for the acting. Both Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater come from very well-known theatrical families. Rabe, the daughter of the late actress, Jill Clayburgh and playwright David Rabe. She gained notoriety in the Shakespeare in the Park/Broadway production of The Merchant of Venice opposite Al Pacino. Hamish Linlater, on the other hand, is the son of theater professor Kristin Linklater, who is renowned for her vocal techniques. In fact, I studied her technique extensively at Circle in the Square Theatre School, and continue to reference her book Freeing the Natural Voice on a regular basis as an actor. It’s no wonder that the two can both handle the difficult text that Shakespeare is famous for, and they do it magnificently. There was a funny moment where Hamish broke the fourth wall, using an audience member’s reaction to a rabbit. It was great. Even to those not familiar with classical and Shakespearean plays will be able to follow the plot and nuances in the hands of the entire cast–but especially Rabe and Linklater. I can’t say enough about them. As for the supporting cast, no one missed a beat. I especially enjoyed seeing Brian Stokes Mitchell and John Glover onstage as I have been a fan of both their work for years.
I am so grateful I had the opportunity to see such a wonderful production. It also reinforced my desire to get back on stage as soon as I can, reminding myself why I came to the city in the first place–to act. It’s weird because I remember seeing a broadcast on PBS in 1998 of Live at Lincoln Center of Twelfth Night. At 13 years old, after acting as a hobby since the age of 7 or 8, I decided at that moment, that I wanted to do that. I wanted to study acting, and I wanted to get better. It also ignited a more profound passion for Shakespeare in me. I had read Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet at age 11 without really “getting it.” It wasn’t until Twelfth Night that I went “Whoa, I get it.” I became an English major in college probably avoiding a traditional theater degree on purpose because, “there has to be a fall back plan.” I’m coming to realize, as I have studied acting more intensely and Shakespeare more intensively as an actor, that I love being an actor. I love it, and I am proud to be one. Last night reminded me that I am, and that I will always be an actor and I’m glad to be part of such rich community of creators and storytellers. I am so happy I got to see such wonderful and talented performers. I can only hope there was a young kid in the audience who was as inspired by last night’s performance as I was Twelfth Night. Much Ado About Nothing is far from nothing, this production has everything and more. Let’s hope they bring it to Broadway!