Shakespeare in McCarren Park
Shakespeare in the Park is one of those New York City phenomena, along with Katz’s Deli, the Blue Note Jazz Club and Top of the Rock. But if you missed this summer’s performances—June 9 through August 1—of A Winter’s Tale and The Merchant of Venice, you still had a chance to see some outdoor Shakespeare this past weekend thanks to New Lions’ Productions who brought their own modern day version of Shakespeare to McCarren Park with Comedie of Errors. Still free, still Shakespeare, and still in a park. (And if you missed these performances as well, you’ve got two more shots—this Saturday, August 14 at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, August 15 at 2:00 p.m.at Riverside Park.)
The New Lions’ Productions show is adapted and directed by Lauren Keating and produced by Kate Schroeder with dance elements inspired by Claire Morrison’s experience and background in folk dance. This interpretation completely turns the original Shakespearian plot on its head by swapping the two sets of male twins for ladies, (as the flier enthusiastically advertises,“double the girls! double the fun!”) and adjusting the rest of the cast accordingly. Though The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s shortest (and one of his earliest) plays, Keating’s adaptation is shorter still. “We wanted it to be about an hour because you don’t know what the weather’s going to be like, and we wanted it to be digestible—get in, get out,” Keating said.
Comedie of Errors (both the Shakespeare play and the New Lions’ edition)embodies the kind of slapstick humor that thrives on confusion a la Who’s on First?, the vaudeville comedy routine made famous by Abbott and Costello. The brains behind the production wanted something that would be family friendly and create a welcoming environment. “We came up with the idea of doing something outside because we wouldn’t have to deal with any contracts or actually being in a theatre.That way we could have a passion project this summer that we could take around and have a good time with,” Keating said.
Keating, who thought Comedie of Errors would be fun with female twins as opposed to male twins—especially because if you don’t have a background in Shakespeare you might not know anything had been changed—was not trying to make a huge, sweeping feminist statement in making the switch.Though one might argue that by reversing the male and female roles, thus stripping the importance of gender altogether, she was, in a sense, making a feminist statement. Or perhaps further demonstrating her point that this is a story abouta particular group of women, not about gender.
“When you see plays that are all female or have some sort of gender flip, often it is making a big social statement and a lot of the play ends up being about that. Whereas I thought in this context we’re outside, it’s a comedy, it’s supposed to be fun; I enjoyed the fact that people probably wouldn’t spend their time thinking about that, that they would just be thinking about the story,” Keating said.
Next, Keating will be working on a project for the Old Vic American Contingent, but she does hope to do more things like this in the future. There were a lot of people who came to see this show that had never seen a play before. “I feel like a lot of times, as a theatre artist in New York, we make theatre for each other, and that’s great but I think there’s also value in being able to reach people that don’t traditionally see theatre,” Keating said.If that’s not free, public art making a difference in every day life, I don’t know what is.
Vote for Comedie of Errors for the New York Innovative Theatre Awards: http://www.nyitawards.com/vote