Forgoing the Fringe For Classical Culture
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Even for die-hard Broadway buffs, theater in August can seem like an awful chore, especially if you like the old stuff. Most classical theater offerings see the Fringe juggernaut rolling into town and they tuck their tails and run. In the dog days, finding a show without an exclamation point or “the Musical” in its title is tough.
But, never fear. If you’d rather stare at Beaux Arts than Frank Gehry, there are still a few New York productions you might enjoy.
Shakespeare, of course, is a staple of the summer months.The man wrote his plays to be performed without much of a roof, so naturally his work converts easily into bumptious, outdoor productions.
Amble to Central Park for “A Comedy of Errors,” where the marvelously in-shape New York Classical Theater (newyorkclassical.org) dashes uphill and down dale in Shakespeare’s contrivance- and twin-heavy farce. If you’re toting a tot, try the “Mini-Tempest,” which is a teapotsized version of the classic in the West Side Community Garden at 89th Street and Amsterdam Avenue (212-245-7498).Though Shakespeare in the Parking Lot may be the grungiest of the venues, the group’s “As You Like It” will make you see an Arden where everybody else sees, um, a parking lot (see drillingcompany.org). And if you’ve absolutely had it with the outdoors, and demand a chair and at least a portable fan, check out “Much Ado About Nothing” at the 78th Street Theater Lab (foldingchairtheatre.org). Benedick and Beatrice can spar to their hearts’ content, and you’ll never feel the heat.
Maybe all this frivolous frolicking still doesn’t satisfy your old-fashioned urge for mental anguish. In that case, stay in the park and wangle yourself some free tickets (distributed at the Delacorte Theater every day starting at 1 p.m.) to see Meryl Streep in “Mother Courage.” The work, about a woman watching her children ground up by the machinery of war and human frailty, should perfectly scratch that itch.
If you still have a bit of summer buoyancy left, puncture it with “Rosmersholm,” Ibsen’s rarely produced tragedy about a married man, his frustrated beloved, and a very wintry river. 59E59 (www.59E59.org) presents it as part of a double bill from Norway — perfect icedown-the-back counter-programming to the sunny Fringe. However, “The Dispute,”Marivaux’s cold-eyed dissection of 18th-century sexual politics, just might freeze over your summer romance. Go indulge your misanthropic side with the National Asian American Theater Company’s production at the Abingdon Theater Arts Complex (www.naatco.org).
But don’t forget about American playwrights. They generated some classics too, and, surprisingly, several of them are popping up as the summer winds down. A little seen Eugene O’Neill play,”Marco Millions (based on lies),” gives the famous adventurer and spice-trader a snappy set-down at Theater Row (waterwell.org), while the Horton Foote Project at the 78th Street Theater Lab (slanttheatreproject.org) boils down his nine-play “Orphan Cycle” into one evening of lots of orphans. And don’t ignore a good old dose of American cynicism with John Murray and Allen Boretz’s Room Service (1937), the hero of which hides in his hotel room from increasingly furious creditors (thepeccadillo.com).
And the unfortunately late, but undeniably great August Wilson arrives back on Broadway with “Seven Guitars,”here directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. The Signature Theater Company (signaturetheatre.org) has somehow figured out a way to shrink ticket prices to $15, so that’s a Fringe-worthy price for a play that has already made the history books.
And if you have somehow missed the warhorses that have been stomping around Broadway for months, now might be the time to sneak into the mezzanine. Tickets might free up for the crackerjack “Sweeney Todd” (Patti Lupone is out until the 13th), and the kicks are only getting higher at “Chicago” (although you could hold out until September previews for “A Chorus Line”).
No matter which one you choose, though, you can rest easy knowing you’re seeing the tried and true. So sit back, and wait 40 years — by then, others will have made new classics out of those Fringe offerings you passed up.