It’s Raining Lear

“And thou, all-shaking thunder,
strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!”

It all started when the virtual ticket lottery for Shakespeare in the Park was, well, much ado about nothing. (Which also happened to be the name of the first show of the park season…coincidence? You bet your Benedick.)

So for the second show of the park season—King Lear starring John Lithgow and Annette Benning—the boy decided to get tickets to his first performance of Shakespeare in the Park how Public Theater and New York Shakespeare Festival founder Joseph Papp himself only could have imagined: by standing in line with the masses in Central Park to obtain the tickets for free. Quick facts: Central Park opens at 6am; people begin lining up outside the 82nd street park entrance at what can only be described as “ass-o-clock” in the morning; when the park opens, another line forms outside the Delacorte Theater area; lastly, tickets are distributed (2 per person) at noon.

The boy left Princeton at 4:30am and got to Central Park just as they were opening up and got a cozy spot, 27 people from the front. As the hours ticked by, the line grew and grew…and grew. [I got a great play-by-play as I sat at my desk that morning]20140724-221657-80217722.jpg

After 6 hours of waiting, the moment arrived: ticket distribution. And he got ’em!

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I hopped on an express train from Princeton and we grabbed a bite to eat at one of our favorite Upper West Side eateries: Jacob’s Pickles. Bourbon, biscuits, and pickles—what could be better before a night of Shakespeare in the Park? For most of the day, we’d heard that a thunderstorm was on tap for the evening. Bring. It. ON. Being the smart and resourceful twenty-somethings that we are, we stopped at CVS to get plastic trash bags to use as makeshift ponchos (no umbrellas are allowed in the open-air theater during the performance and we weren’t about to pay $15 each for ponchos). #noshame #onabudget

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The performance started at about 10 after eight; no rain. Within minutes of the play beginning, a few flashes of lightning lit up the sky and purplish/orange clouds began to creep in from the west. We got 25 minutes in when thunder joined the party. No sooner did the stage manager come over the God mic with “hold” when it began to downpour. Everyone trickled out of the theater and huddled under the awning outside the space. Many left immediately, many waited for 10 minutes and left when the storm didn’t pass…and then there were the rest of us who waited hopefully with bated breath. Thunder [boom!]. Lightning [flash]. Rain [pouring]. Hey, it’s all part of the experience, right? Right.

After 20 minutes huddled with a gaggle of theater-loving folk under the awning, it was announced that we’d be resuming the performance in 10 minutes (thank you Shakespeare Gods). We went back to our seats, slid plastic bags over them, made little ponchos and covers for ourselves, and settled in for however much more of the production we’d be fortunate enough to experience. Here we are, decked out in garbage bags…like ya do:

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The drizzle was steady during Act I along with a few lingering flashes of lightning, but these actors were unphased (except for John Lithgow’s early admission upon returning to the stage and attempting to pick up where they left off: “I’m sorry, I’m completely lost.” That got a nice chuckle from the audience.). Early in Act II, the rain stopped. We got all but a five-minute reprieve when it started up again…tease. Though, Mother Nature couldn’t have planned it better: the rain began again just as Lear and his fool were braving a storm of their own and the king was building up to his “storm speech.”

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!

Before the performance started, we were at least hoping to make it to that scene. And we did. Everything from there on out was gravy. The rain steadily came down for the remainder of the performance and actually made the whole experience quite fascinating to watch. A particular moment in Act IV stands out in my memory: Annette Benning’s Goneril was being belittled by her husband, the Duke of Albany, and the subtle lighting combined with their positions on the complete opposite side of the stage from us really highlighted the rain pouring down on them and gave the scene such a cinematic edge. It was incredible. (I can only imagine what these actors can do when it’s not raining buckets on them and they’re not traipsing across a slippery stage.)

Fighting…deaths…end of play; it was now midnight. No need to rush out of the park for us. The next and last train to New Jersey wasn’t until 1:22. So we sloshed out of the park with the masses a la Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook and made our way to Penn. This was my first experience with King Lear and I think I can honestly say that nothing else will top it. Definitely a night out at the theater for the record books!

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