Leave it to the Drilling Company’s brave ensemble, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot — no stranger to staging plays in challenging environments — to surmount the myriad distractions of Bryant Park with its robust and romantic staging of “Much Ado About Nothing.” Under lights draped around five Roman columns, and flanked by urns overflowing with blooms, the players exuded an energy eclipsing the ambient sounds of the city.
This “Much Ado” is set in the era of World War I and women’s suffrage. Here, Beatrice (Anwen Darcy) first appears in a sash emblazoned with the words “Votes for Women,” and the best buds Claudio (Andrew Gombas) and Benedick (McKey Carpenter) enter singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” in military attire. (Laurie Dick designed the show’s terrific and highly varied costumes.)
But the period dress takes a back seat to the play’s essentials: the delicious badinage between the verbal duelists Beatrice and Benedick, and the plans of the perfidious Don John (an understatedly menacing Brandon Reilly) to thwart the nuptials of Claudio and Hero (Mary Linehan, Bianca in last year’s Bryant Park production of “The Taming of the Shrew”).
Under Hamilton Clancy’s direction, the production lags in more slapstick moments, largely in the first half, but not for want of vigor: The presence of David Sitler, as the blustery Dogberry, and the wiry “Shrew” alumnus Jarrod Bates (covering for Joe Clancy on Thursday as the Boy and the Messenger) were especially welcome.
The brightest moments involve the lovebirds: Mr. Gombas vividly conveys Claudio’s wide-eyed gullibility, and Ms. Linehan brings vehement passion to Hero’s defense of her honor. As for Benedick and Beatrice, Mr. Carpenter’s strut and swagger are a fine counterpart to Ms. Darcy’s tart tongue and righteous spine. Her fierce delivery of “O God that I were a man!” scorches.
One glowing delight in this production
is a wistful duet that Mr. Gombas and Drew Valins (as Don Pedro) share
on mandolin (actually a recorded ukulele) and harmonica during the song-poem
“Sigh No More.” It’s no surprise the verses return
in a refrain sung by the cast at the end; these sentiments more than
merit a second hearing.
"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.
Shakespeare's Birthday Bash, 2015