After courting controversy with its Trump-inspired “Julius Caesar” earlier this summer, the Public Theater isn’t shying away from putting modern takes on its Shakespeare productions.
For its final free show of the season at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, the Public’s community theater program Public Works will present the comedy “As You Like It” as a musical. Two of the (eventually) happily married couples have been changed: from Phoebe’s beloved is now Sylvia, not Silvius, and instead of Touchstone and Audrey it’s now Touchstone and Andy.
“Who gets access to marriage is one of the themes. Who gets to love? We all get to love. Who gets to marry? We all get to marry,” says director Laurie Woolery, who co-adapted the play into a 90-minute musical with songs by singer/songwriter Shaina Taub (who also stars as a gender-bending Jacques).
“That is the first time within Public Works that we’ve been able to fully embrace almost all forms of access to love.”
Public Works casts its 200-strong ensemble (and even a few of its leads!) from community groups like the veterans of the Military Resilience Project, Domestic Workers United and a senior jazzercise class from the Brownsville Recreation Center to work alongside a handful of professional actors.
Entire families, including parents with their young children, are taking part in the production, which runs for an extended five nights from Sept. 1-5. Tickets to the 90-minute show are free and distributed in person at the Delacorte, by lottery at the Public Theater and through the TodayTix app.
Woolery, Taub and the Public Theater’s Artistic Director Oskar Eustis chose “As You Like It” for its similarities to the Public Works mission: bringing together parts of the NYC community that may otherwise never have met and the “theatrical miracle” that happens as they collaborate.
Though marriage equality is not an overt theme of the show, Woolery says, it’s hard to see it as anything but a show of support at a time when the administration of President Donald Trump has appointed anti-LGBT Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and recently banned transgender men and women from serving in the armed forces.
Little was changed from Shakespeare’s original text, she says, calling him “a magnificent collaborator, because his worlds contain such a full spectrum of humanity.”
“Storytelling is a political act, a radical act — being able to own your own story and tell your own story,” Woolery explains.
“So selecting a Shakespeare play that could speak to our time right now is what led us to ‘As You Like It’: having community at the center of it and responding to the world around us became the two guiding principles.”