"Two Gentlemen of Verona," Bryant Park, 2015
Shakespeare with a New York accent moves
into Bryant Park
Drew Valins, 39, an actor dressed in crisp white kitchen gear and red bandana, is used to his voice bouncing off the buildings surrounding a grimy parking lot on the Lower East Side. But on a recent warm Wednesday afternoon, he was playing a Shakespeare character, Speed, at one end of Bryant Park. Curious tourists and workers on their lunch break gathered to watch and obliviously barge through the middle of the scene.
Getting Shakespeare onto the streets is at the center of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’s mission - to make those universal Shakespearean themes of love, revenge and humanity accessible to crowds that might not make it to the theatre district, or even get tickets to the Central Park production with the lottery ticket system that’s notoriously impossible to beat.
NEW YORK TIMES
"The evil all but oozes from Alessandro Colla, who, as Richard III, shuffles across the asphalt in this year's second offering from Shakespeare in the Parking Lot. The king's body is damaged, of course. But, oh, his wicked mind: that's always working.
"After last year’s news that the bones of the real Richard III had been found under a parking lot in Leicester, England, it seemed all but required that the troupe resurrect the tale at its blacktop stage on the Lower East Side. The show proves to be mostly successful, thanks largely to its lead.
"Mr. Colla is a powerhouse actor, particularly early on, when Richard’s plots and inductions are laid into place with the help of his henchman, Buckingham (a dependable Arash Mokhtar). Mr. Colla speaks the speech smoothly, sometimes while smoking a cigarette. He’s alternately elated and enraged, and more than a bit smug and hammy. It’s a shrewd mixture."
NEW YORK TIMES
"There may have been a dull moment during “Cymbeline” — before the beheading, the swordfight, the cross-dressing, the case of mistaken identity, the news of the kidnappings, the declaration of war, the mysterious sleeping potion, the devious lies and the murder plot by the scheming stepmother. If so, I missed it."
NEW YORK TIMES
"The new production of 'Coriolanus,' Shakespeare’s drama about an election that pits disdainful elites against the 99 percent, would seem to be a perfect fit for both our time and the inherently populist theater series to which it belongs, Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot. (Yes, this Elizabethan tragedy is performed gratis on the pavement of a functioning municipal parking lot, amid cars, trucks and pedestrians ferrying home Chinese takeout.)
"The play has even been recast as an Occupy movement tale....
"Arash Mokhtar is usually compelling
as the inscrutable, jaw-clenched Coriolanus, though he is much more
convincing in the play’s less tender moments. The director, Hamilton
Clancy, also keeps the play unusually energized and brisk, which is
no small feat for a two-and-a-half-hour intermissionless production....
"MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR TOWERS" 2012
There are some very strong performances which drive this mostly-successful romp. Karla Hendrick's Mistress Ford and Jean Marc Russ as her jealous husband are both very grounded and fully meet each insane moment in the play. Both use the audience skillfully and frequently, letting us into all of their realizations and emotional shifts. No production of Merry Wives could delight without an amazing Falstaff and David Marantz delivers up all the gross, self-satisfied, indignant comedy required. Veronica Cruz, as a sexy-nurse version of Mistress Quickly, was also a fun favorite of mine whenever she was onstage.
The most inspiring aspect of this production to me was the commitment both onstage and around it. While cars and pedestrians come in and out of the open municipal parking lot, the actors are always in character as they make their way around it to make their entrances and exits. The actors all throw themselves completely into their individual character choices in the service of Shakespeare's looney farce. The audience, matching the wide diversity of the characters onstage—theatre die-hards and neighborhood kids alike—were just as committed in receiving it. At 2.5 hours it is not a short play in the YouTube, sound-byte age. But as a tradition 20 years along, Drilling Company audiences get to the parking lot early, many bringing their own chairs (early birds snap up the ones provided) and some stand or sit on the ground. Most stayed for the duration, hung on all the humor of this 400-year-old comedy, and together we had a great time. To me this exemplifies the beauty of free theater in New York. It underlines the fact that theater is still a vital art form very much alive when it is simply made well and made accessible to everyone.
"COMEDY OF ERRORS" 2011
HIGHLIGHTS FROM PREVIOUS SEASONS
"When Cassius declares, 'I ... have bared my bosom to the thunder-stone,' what the audience sees is that noble Roman’s open blouse with a black bra underneath."
actors and cross-gender casting having become so common, it’s hard
to say which would be less surprising these days: an actor in women’s
clothing or an actress playing Cassius. In this case, the Drilling Company’s
new production of 'Julius Caesar,' it's Selene Beretta as Cassius, and
she gives a fierce, powerful performance in a tight skirt and high heels
as the leader of the assassins who murder Caesar on the Ides of March."
"The production’s setting is also notable. The play is presented in the middle of a Lower East Side parking lot, with white plastic chairs for the audience surrounding the 'stage.' The series, which has been around since 1992, is called Shakespeare in the Parking Lot; admission is free; and people strolling across the lot have been known to stop out of curiosity and decide to stay."
"It’s an excellent introduction to 'Julius Caesar' for those who don’t know any more about the play than Caesar’s line 'Et tu, Brute?' And Steven Lee Edwards’s original song 'Caesar Is Back,' which frames the show, sums up Shakespeare’s meaning with crystal clarity."
New York City, July 7, 2009
This space reserved for Shakespeare
As Shakespeare wrote, “all the world’s a stage…” and the Drilling Company takes Will’s words quite literally, proving the adage again with their sixteenth summer of free outdoor theater, performed in the unique environs of an unassuming Lower East Side parking lot!
Thursday through Saturday (July 9 through August 15), as the sun heads West to set and the concrete begins to sweat out the heat of summer, a patch of asphalt—67 parking spaces large—is transformed by lawn chairs unfolded along the parking lines into aisles and actors in modern dress taking their places on the “stage.”
The delightful downtown alternative to the other Bard-focused festival, long-running Central Park staple, Shakespeare in the Park, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot attracts hundreds rather than thousands, but demand is still high and audiences grow with each passing year. Thankfully, on Ludlow street you’re not likely to incur the long lines or swarms of picnicking Upper East Siders with Zabars take-out that throng Central Park, though limited provided seats motivate some eager audience members to arrive up to an hour early. However, they’re typically noshing on pizza and tallboys. In the parking lot, props consist of cardboard cutouts and occasionally solid furniture that looks as though it was dumpster dived; costumes are Elizabethan-free; refreshments are minimal. Despite the pared-down staging, the productions are compelling enough to draw crowds out to the simple lot for two-hour performances. Best to be prepared and bring your own chair—a truly necessary supplement to an inevitably too-thin blanket. It’s lot, not lawn, after all!
The simple setting is not without its challenges, however. City sounds compete with the performers for attention, cars continue to enter and exit the active lot, and the actors work to maintain focus while the audiences eyes occasionally wander, distracted by the passing cast of characters, and the confused reactions of those who happen upon the scene.
This year’s artistic directors Hamilton Clancy and Kathy Curtiss ensure you’ll be too captivated to mind the surroundings. Recognizing that theater fans have a lot of choice when it comes to where they get their summer Shakespeare fix, Clancy and Curtiss present two classic comedies, beginning the season with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, followed by Measure for Measure.
So if you find yourself downtown at dusk, seek out the municipal lot for a hassle-free Shakespeare in the Park alternative. And, needless to say, parking is available!