CULTURE IN CENTRAL PARK
Updated: Jun 21, 2019
Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater deems itself as one of the most quintessential New York experiences, a place that many theater goers attend to find culture. The Public’s 57th season at the Delacorte Theater in New York City showcases Much Ado About Nothing written by William Shakespeare which runs from May 21 - June 23. The Public embodies the principle that culture belongs to everyone, and is known for providing free, accessible theater to all.
The story revolves around two love stories. Claudio falls in love with Hero and their marriage is agreed upon. At the start, Beatrice and Benedick engage in comic banter as they denounce the idea of love. The community decides to trick Benedick and Beatrice as they strategically place themselves so that Benedick will overhear the other’s speak of Beatrice’s secret love for him, and vice versa. Meanwhile, Don John, the villain and the prince’s brother, derives a plan with the help of his assistant Borachio that Hero was unfaithful the night before her wedding day. Claudio rejects Hero on the wedding day and reveals this piece of knowledge at the wedding ceremony. Hero faints out of grief, and the Friar convinces Leonato to denounce her death in order to prove her innocence. Beatrice demands that Benedick should avenge Hero by killing Claudio for the pain he has caused. Meanwhile, Dogberry and his watchmen overhear Borachio boasting of the exploit. Claudio agrees to make amends to Leonato by marrying Hero’s cousin. During the wedding ceremony, Hero is revealed as alive. Beatrice agrees to marry Benedick.
In line with The Public’s mission to represent the diversity in the nation, Tony Award winner director Kenny Leon exhibits an all-black staging of the beloved comedy set in the near present future, in pre-election 2020 in Alabama. The election banner that adorns the set is hardly ever referred to, but serves as a reminder that we are set in the present. The soldiers enter the premises at the start of the play with picket fence signs which eerily resemble Black Lives Matter protest signs, and the production ends with a happy gathering immediately followed by a similar protest upon exit.
The character of Beatrice is a pleasantly spirited lady who is sharp and is quick to poke fun at others with clever wordplay. Her lovesick counterpart, Benedick, is just as witty. He is a soldier having fought under Don Pedro, and vows that he will never marry at the start of the play. The “Orange is the New Black” actress Danielle Brooks plays the role of Beatrice who is described to have been born under a dancing star. Brooks’ interpretation and technique, no doubt learned from her time at Juilliard, make for a refreshed version of an American beauty. The casting of plus-sized, black female as an ingenue exhibits a new norm in the Shakespearean world. Her bold use of wordplay is impeccable. Grantham Coleman, also a Juilliard graduate and one year apart from Brooks, breathes life into the African-American lifestyle through his mannerisms and his subtle references to pop culture. His use of carefully crafted inflections prove both effective and comedic.
The combined elements of the production helped to create a world that depicted a present day African-American community. Scenic Designer Beowulf Borritt implements an Alabama front yard, an effective tactic that immediately engulfs the audience into a new world before the production begins. Lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski is effective and creates a clear depiction of the time of day by highlighting the lights on the lawn or within the house. The implementation of sound clips and dance parties in scene transitions helped depict community gatherings. The costume design by Emilio Sosa includes a mix of contemporary clothes as well as traditional African clothing which furthermore showcases cultural pride.