The Public Theater has announced the lineup for this summer's 60th anniversary season of Shakespeare In The Park, the beloved free annual event staged at The Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The schedule includes Richard III, starring Black Panther and The Walking Dead star Danai Gurira and directed by Tony nominee Robert O’Hara (Slave Play), and a production of As You Like It originally scheduled for the 2020 season, but delayed because of the pandemic.
After mounting no productions in 2020 because of the pandemic, and staging only one —an adaptation of Merry Wives of Windsor set in Harlem, and performed in front of reduced-capacity crowds — in 2021, artistic director Oskar Eustis said the Public Theater is "finally returning to a full slate of shows in the Park, and the artists and shows will be thrilling."
He called O'Hara "one of our greatest and most exciting directors," and said his version of Richard III will be "unlike any you have seen before." He praised Gurira, who in addition to being a playwright and actress is also a member of the Public Theater’s board, and previously starred in Measure for Measure at the 2011 Shakespeare in the Park. "Our dearly beloved Danai Gurira will be giving us her version of this extraordinary character," Eustis said.
He noted that he chose the play because of its relevancy for today: "Shakespeare's Richard created the model for politics as an extension of show business—with devastating results. As always, Shakespeare seems to be speaking directly into our contemporary dreams and nightmares."
Richard III has been staged at the Delacorte four times previously, including in 1983 with Kevin Kline as the titular character in 1990 and with Denzel Washington playing the lead role.
As You Like It is a remounting of a short production offered as part of the theater’s Public Works program in 2017, which featured a diverse cross-section of regular New Yorkers from all five boroughs alongside professional actors. The adaptation, by singer-composer Shaina Taub and Public Works director Laurie Woolery, had been announced in 2020, before succumbing to pandemic-related closures.
“Our musical adaptation of As You Like It was created in response to a shifting world post the 2016 presidential election, where polarizing opinions fractured relationships and created a culture of ‘othering’ one another," Woolery said in a statement. "Over the last five years, our country has experienced a global pandemic, anti-racist uprising, and so much loss that has further isolated us. The nature of theater is to gather and sit in community with one another. The heart of the story of As You Like It contains the possibility of humans being whole again through the healing power of community and its ability to gather and hold space for one another during the darkest of times. This is a dream we had for over two years and can’t wait to gather together in community, outdoors, under the stars at The Delacorte Theater.”
Unlike last year, the Delacorte plans to welcome audiences back at full capacity this summer. They will still require proof of COVID vaccination and a booster dose, and people must wear masks at all time inside the theater. You can learn more about their health and safety protocols here.
The dates for the productions, along with the full casts and ticketing information, will be announced later this year.
These will be the final performances at the Delacorte, which was originally built in 1962, before it undergoes some much-needed a $77 million renovation in the fall.
And while there will not be any drastic changes to the building, the front exterior will get redone to be canted slightly outward; there will be upgrades to modernize back-of-house theatrical operations and increase access for people living with disabilities; the seating will be replaced to increase audience comfort; and there will be improved lighting and new decking material to account for storms.
As for future productions there, Rosalind Barbour, the Public Theater's administrative chief of staff, previously told Gothamist they expect Shakespeare in the Park programming will resume in the summer of 2023.
"Our guiding principle is really to disrupt Shakespeare In The Park as little as possible," she said. "The idea of being closed again for a prolonged period is something [we] just can't imagine, so we're really trying to avoid it as much as possible."