Sunday, July 08, 2007

Rite of summer

Yesterday L and I did one of my favorite New York activities of the whole year, an event that marks the brilliance of summer as much as the sunniest weekend or the coldest fountain Coke: we went to see Shakespeare in the Park. This year's first selection is Romeo and Juliet. We woke up at 5:30 am and dragged ourselves, armed with blankets, books, and an assortment of healthy snacks, up to the Delacorte Theater to try to get tickets. These tickets are free, and passed out at 1 pm each day, so the crowds form very early (the first people usually camp overnight, or get there around 4 am). Each year I feel a unique stress as we hustle out of the house, and then, in the most horrifying moments of all, try to run in flip-flops past the already-formed line with an increasing sense of dread, until you throw down your blanket and stake your claim in line.

We were there by 6 am, so we settled in for a solid seven hours of reading and napping. You always make friends with the people around you; the two girls behind us in line were friendly grad students who had interesting stories and good choices in reading material. People in this line approach the task with the intensity and organizational focus that is characteristic of this city. Everyone listens intently as the line monitors explain the process, and people are vigilant to kick out would-be line cutters. We did not wake up at 5:30 am, and we are not spending most of the day bumming around in the park, for nothing.

So the great news was that we did get tickets, after many snacks, several trips to the public bathrooms (which, given their location in a municipal park, could be a lot grosser), and 250 pages of my Lincoln biography. Of course, a couple hundred people behind us were turned away, many of whom were only a half hour or so behind us -- we were very fortunate to get tickets, so we spent some time high-fiving, which is somewhat rare in our marriage. Anyways, here's how I spent the rest of the day: I did my first long run of marathon training (6 miles), I got a haircut (including the mandatory moment of ghastliness when my hair is soaked and the guy does this thing with the comb that makes me look tragically bald, which may or may not be true), took a nap, when to Chipeezley, and then came home for dinner, then went back up to the Park for the play.

The play. Here's the thing. We've gone to Shakespeare in the Park for four years now, and every year I think it's the best one ever, and this time was no exception. But for all the familiarity of Romeo and Juliet, I was so surprised and enthralled by this production. Lauren Ambrose as Juliet was stunning. She brought a sense of youth, intensity, and passion to her role. This was the first time I ever considered how young Romeo and Juliet are, and Ambrose infused her role with the enthusiasm and slightly spastic quality of teenage love. During the balcony scene, when the two are furtively flirting and kissing and generally mooning over each other, I was reminded of those long ago nights in high school, when a football stadium or a parking lot or a school dance created all of the romance and privacy you could possibly fathom, and this was more than you could ever dream of while it also fell flaggingly short -- the play brought back all of those dizzying emotions.

I guess while the play is about romance and tragedy and thwarted love, it's also about the the impetuousness of youth, and the utter faith you have in your own choices and destiny and view of the world, a faith that may be battered as the years move along. This play was passionate, and sexy, and funny, and gripping.

The set itself was utterly beautiful -- there was a huge, round shallow pool in the center of the stage, with only an additional structure of scaffolding to create the public squares, balconies, ballrooms, and crypts of the setting. The characters would glide or wade or stomp or fight through the water, lights would reflect and characters would become their own doubles. It was almost magical, especially as the sun set and the birds flew above us and the few stars emerged into the sky.

Basically it was an amazing night, one that fully justified my excitement and fondness for Shakespeare in the Park. The second production this summer is "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and I'm already planning on another trip when my sis is in town. Another day in the Park, lazing the morning away beneath the canopy of trees and making unexpected friends, then returning at night to be moved and surprised and reminded of how lucky you are to be here -- what more could anyone ask of a summer day?

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