There is a moment in “Twelfth Night” when Sir Andrew Aguecheek mournfully declares, “Oh, had I but followed the arts!”
Following the arts proved to be a challenge that I happily accepted on Friday night when I attended an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s comedy that strapped on its walking shoes and set out to prove that all the world is indeed a stage.
The New York Classical Theatre production started off at Castle Clinton but then literally picked up and moved all over Battery Park with a large, appreciative audience in hot and humid pursuit.
Sounds crazy? Well, it was and I don’t think I ever enjoyed a production of this play as much as I enjoyed this one. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this show was…enchanting.
It was everything a summer night in New York should be—great weather, courteous people, and a fabulous performance. The fact that it didn’t cost a dime was pretty cool, too.
This was a last minute thing for me. I had just read the Times review and I was debating about what I wanted to do with my Friday night.
There were one event I half-heartedly planned on attending, but it was inside and I couldn’t bring myself to go indoors on such a fine evening.
But even when I decided to attend this play, which was a 10-minute walk from my office, I told myself I wouldn’t stay for the whole thing.
Chasing around the actors as they move from place to place? I thought. Preposterous. The first time they move, I will, too—straight to the nearest subway station.
But I stuck around when we moved from Castle Clinton to a nearby section of the park. And I stayed with the crowd as we moved to the Coast Guard/Navy Memorial and finally back to the castle for a rousing climax.
This was theater at its most basic level. No microphones, no massive, computerized sets, no orchestra—it was just actors and Shakespeare. And that was all we needed.
The City of New York and all its craziness served as a background to the 400-year-old comedy—the skyscrapers, the Staten Island ferry chugging through the water, jets roaring overhead and gawking tourists walking by.
The actors were fabulous, in addition to being light on their feet. Moving around so much meant they had to cut through the audience to get to the “stage.”
I made room for a person I thought was a fellow audience member, but who was in fact the lovely Chantal Jean-Pierre, portraying Olivia, on her way to deliver her lines.
My favorite moment of audience participation occurred in the final act, when Ian Antal, portraying Sir Andrew, mistakenly accuses Viola of beating him up.
“That’s him!” he declares.
And just at the moment, a little boy who was completely oblivious to what was going on walked by the actors and kept on going toward the exit.
“Not him,” Antal said, without missing a beat.
After the play I hopped the express bus home, but I was feeling so good I think I could have floated back to Brooklyn.
This is why you live in New York, why you put up with the noise, the nuts, and the nitwits, so you can have a night like this.
Lady Olivia said this was very midsummer madness and she was so right. Play on, indeed...