Despite having lived in NYC for more than 15 years, I’d never made it to one of the Public Theater’s annual Shakespeare in the Park plays. I had, on occasion, tried for tickets through their online lottery, though without luck. But it wasn’t until this week that I decided enough was enough, and blocked out an entire morning to sit in the ticket line of Central Park’s Delacorte Theater.
Though the hardest-core fans will sometimes camp out overnight to stake a place early in the line, I had read that showing up at 8:00am – for a box office that opens at 12:00 noon – would at least make getting tickets highly likely. So, early Tuesday morning, I trekked up through Central Park with the dogs, heading past the 70th Street top of our normal off-leash loop, the full mile-and-a-half jaunt to the Delacorte. By 8:15am, the line already snaked a quarter mile along one of the park paths, with people seated on beach blankets and lawn chairs, reading and catching Pokemon.
An hour or so later, Jessie came up to meet us. The dogs having sufficiently sniffed everyone waiting nearby, I left her behind to hold our place, and looped back down to drop them at home, then headed up to meet her once again. She, in turn, departed an hour later, and I tapped away the remaining wait on my iPad, until finally – and just barely – making the cut for a pair of tickets around 12:30pm.
That evening, we headed back to the Delacorte, with plastic cups and a bottle of wine poured into a plastic water-bottle. (Outside food is permitted, though not glass botttles.) Though the tickets had been given out randomly, we’d still managed to end up in the cheap seats – the very back row, only five or six chairs away from the rightmost edge of the amphitheater.
No matter. Because the play itself was truly excellent. I’d never seen Troilus and Cressida before, hadn’t even read it, though I knew it’s reputation as one of Shakespeare’s least often staged, and most problematic, plays. The plot draws from The Iliad, focusing in on a short portion of the Trojan war, with a distinctly anti-Homeric, almost existential disdain for heroes and greatness. And though the play is often critiqued for it’s wide swings from slapstick drama to dark tragedy, Daniel Sullivan’s extremely modern direction still drew it together into a wonderful, cohesive whole.
For the first act, much of the credit for that went to the cast. House of Cards’ Cory Stoll, playing Ulysses as a civilian military advisor, a Greecian Karl Rove in a business suit. Izmenia Mendes’s Cressida, delivering one of the plays most famous lines, “Things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing,” as a Brooklyn hipster’s take on a The Rules approach to wooing men by playing hard to get. Or Alex Breau channeling a Keanu Reeves surfer-dude into the dim-witted yet self-impressed Ajax.
For the second, it was thanks to the staging itself, battle scenes played out with explosions and blank-firing machine-guns, Shakespeare by way of Zero Dark Thirty. When the play ended, almost literally with a bang, after three and a half hours, I had been riveted the entire time.
Sadly, the Public’s run of Troilus and Cressida ends this Sunday. But if you live in NYC, and you’re reading this before then, I highly, highly recommend playing hooky for the morning, and braving the line yourself. It’s certainly worth the wait.