Jesse L. Martin is as “New York” as they come. Having spent years here onstage with the tongue-tangling prose of Shakespeare, plus a landmark role in “Rent” – coinciding with a stint on perhaps the most notable (and sadly, canceled) New York-centric shows of all time, “Law and Order” – Martin is now poised to take on one of the most quintessentially Gotham venues of all time, performing in Central Park at Shakespeare in the Park this summer.
“One of the best things about playing in the park is that the people who end up in the audience really, really want to be there,” Martin explains. “As long as no one gets heatstroke or gets attacked by a bunch of bugs or raccoons, it’s a pretty friendly house.”
Memorizing one Shakespearean play must be headache enough, but the actor will be performing in two this season — as Gratiano in “The Merchant of Venice” and King Polixenes in “The Winter’s Tale.” How does he do it?
“I wish I knew,” he says with a laugh. “If I did, I’d try to bottle it up and sell it. I guess it just comes with absorbing the material over and over again. Eventually it just gets into the cells of your brain.”
But Martin has been doing this for a while now, after all. While he expects an enthusiastic audience at the park, he also remembers a time when he had one particularly heartfelt interruption during a performance long ago.
“My little brother came to see me in a play when I was younger, and he couldn’t separate the fact that I was onstage playing a different character and that he was not to try to address me when I walked onstage,” he says. “As soon as I got on stage he was like, ‘Hey brother! Hey, hey, hey!’ As if we were at home sitting around the table.”
Shakespeare in the Park
Through August 1
Central Park, 81st Street and Central Park West