Five Reasons Shakespeare in the Park is NOT like the DMV


Ok, ok sure—they look similar at first glance. At both, you wait for hours and hours, uncomfortable, and emerge with a little piece of paper for reward. But no, I insist, NO! Waiting at Shakespeare in the Park is not like waiting at the DMV!

For proof, I’ve gathered five pieces of evidence at recent visits to both Esteemed New York Locales.

SITP and the DMV differ in…

1. The quality of fellow line-waiters.
At the DMV, everyone burrows into AngryBirds and trades scowls. SITP, conversely, produces an endlessly interesting supply of theater-lovers there to remind you that even though it’s 5AM and rainy, it’s not too early to debate the merits of Barbara Walsh’s “Ladies Who Lunch.”

2. The setting.
Um, so which do you prefer? A beautiful, bucolic urban paradise, or a windowless maze of nylon cords, blinking LEDs, and Helvetica? Well?

3. The drama.
This one’s a little less clear, I’ll give you. SITP enjoys clear, obvious action: Murder! Incest! Straight-toning! But while the drama of the DMV doesn’t project to the back row in quite the same fashion, it can be just as compelling: Watch, as that woman quietly dissolves into a puddle of impatience. Watch, as that aspiring rapper Def Poetry Jams to himself for two hours. Watch, as the girl reaches the front of the line and learns that her Social Security Card only counts as two points of identification, not three. Oh, the tragedy!!!

4. The quality of the line monitors.
Eric, the amazing SITP shepherd, infuses an appropriate sense of occasion and intensity when he warns patrons with omens like “this line is gonna get long and it’s gonna get long fast.” That sad man at the DMV? Well, he just looks confused.

5. The price.
I may have dropped out of AP Calculus, but I do think that $60.75 is more expensive than “free.” Enjoy that cash, DMV… ENJOY IT.

“Drama” excepted, I rest my case.

So there.

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Cinderella of the Pacific Crest Trail


At the behest of Oprah, I recently read the new, bestselling memoir Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. Wild tracks the author on an eleven-hundred-mile backpacking grunt across the Pacific Crest Trail in California, where her emotional demons are purged through the exorcism that is long-distance hiking.

Strayed’s dependent-yet-hate-filled relationship with her boots (they hurt like hell) is one of the book’s highlights, and when she loses half the crucial pair off a mountainside cliff, it’s almost too much for her (and readers!) to bear. “I let out a stunned gasp,” she writes. “My boot was gone. Actually gone.” This poor woman!, you think, reading. Hasn’t she suffered enough?

It’s a great part of the story, but not only does it make for good reading, it elevates Wild to the level of fairy tale. Indeed, watching the Public Theater’s outdoor production of Into the Woods, the Sondheim/Lapine fairy tale mashup of a musical, Wild came to me in a medium-transcending thunderclap.

Strayed, I instantly realized, is a latter day Cinderella.

Hobbling along the pathway to a better life, both she and Cinderella lead lives of despair and pain; both she and Cinderella are utterly alone; both she and Cinderella face a climactic moment of “one-shoedeness.” 

Indeed, Strayed’s description of herself might as well be a summation of Cinderella: “I was alone. I was barefoot. I was twenty-six years old and an orphan too. An actual stray, a stranger had observed a couple of weeks before, when I’d told him my name and explained how very loose I was in the world.”

Fortunately, Strayed manages to moor herself by the end of the book, as does the Cinderella of Into the Woods. Both go to the mountaintop, learn big, soulful lessons, and emerge equipped to re-enter real life. Whether it’s in the bipolar range between personal loss and shocking natural beauty (Strayed), or in that same expanse between endless housework and princess living (Cinderella), each realizes that equilibrium lives somewhere towards the middle.

As Cinderella sings to her prince, “My father’s house was a nightmare/ Your house was a dream/ Now I want something in between.” The highs and lows make for good storytelling, but living, breathing people need to split the difference.

As for me—and probably you?—I’m tempted by those extremes… tempted, just as long as I don’t have to put on those boots.

But Strayed and Cinderella shoved on their boots and slippers, no messing around.

And perhaps that’s their biggest shared trait of all:

Gumption.

photo by Joan Marcus

_______________________
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
Knopf, 336pp

Into the Woods, Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine
at the Public Theater, Shakespeare in the Park
directed by Timothy Sheader, Co-Directed by Liam Steel

Oh, for a Muse of Pixels…

Charles Edwards and Eve Best in rehearsal for “Much Ado About Nothing”

Shakespeare is taking to the airwaves…

Not to be outdone by the National’s NTLive, the Globe Theatre in London is inaugurating its own theatrical broadcast season this fall. It’s called “Globe on Screen,” and will feature All’s Well That Ends Well, Much Ado About Nothing, and Doctor Faustus, beamed to movie theaters around the world.

NT Live has shown wonderful (if unavoidably watered down) productions, so here’s hoping Globe on Screen follows suit. As for me, I’ll be at Much Ado for Eve Best’s take on Beatrice. (Can I get an “Amen,” “Nurse Jackie” fans?)

It’s interesting how little hang up the Brits have about this theatrical broadcast thing. The National and the Globe aside, they’ve also got DigitalTheatre.com, a kind of iTunes for filmed versions of plays. Producers from the Royal Court to Sonia Friedman have shows available for rent or purchase, and while the venue (your computer screen!) isn’t ideal, it’s better than nothing.

PBS’s “Great Performances” excepted, American theater is much more strictly limited to its in-the-flesh audience. What’s behind the holdup—union craziness? inadequate funding? lack of demand? What do you think?

In the meantime, check out Globe on Screen trailer, below:

Photo by Marc Brenner

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