Illyria becomes the Parking Lot itself in Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’s production of “Twelfth Night” directed by Hamilton Clancy, to be presented by The Drilling Company from July 10 to 26 in the Municipal Parking Lot at the corner of Ludlow and Broome Streets.
The production is an homage to the Parking Lot, which is the Lower East Side’s most famous Shakespeare venue and has been covered by media throughout the world for its uniqueness. The scruffy urban acre has been home to Shakespeare in the Parking Lot for two decades but is scheduled to be swallowed up when the long-vacant Seward Park Urban Renewal Area gives way to Essex Crossing, a giant mixed-used development, capping a half century of “progress” since the city laid the groundwork for the megaproject by demolishing the tenement homes of 1,800 Lower East Side families.
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot was begun in 1995 by Expanded Arts under the artistic direction of Jennifer Spahr. When Ms. Spahr retired in 2000, an organization known as Ludlow Ten was formed under the direction of Leonard McKenzie. The Drilling Company began co-producing SITPL with Ludlow Ten in 2001. After Mr. McKenzie’s retirement in 2005, The Drilling Company was asked to continue the great tradition of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot. A chronology of the year-by-year offerings in the unique setting is in progress on the Shakespeare in the Parking Lot website, www.shakespeareintheparkinglot.com.
“Twelfth Night,” one of the last and most bitter-sweet of Shakespeare’s comedies, is a play filled with deeply flawed, richly drawn and memorable characters, replete with mismatched lovers, love unrequited and love finally satisfied. The central plot hinges on the resemblance of Sebastian and his twin sister Viola, who are separated from each other in a shipwreck off the coast of Illyria. Believing her brother to be dead, Viola dresses as a boy and finds employment as Cesario, a page to Orsino, Duke of Illyria. The Duke is an ardent and unrelenting suitor to the Countess Olivia, but she will have nothing to do with him. She falls instead for his reluctant messenger of love, Cesario. When Viola’s brother arrives on the scene, the fun of mistaken identities begins in earnest. The comedy is intensified by the uproarious machinations of several endearing clowns: Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Sir Toby Belch, Feste, Maria and most importantly, Olivia’s proud and officious steward, Malvolio, whose name means “ill will.”
In this production, the shipwrecked twins are to be swept into the Parking Lot itself. The other characters of the play are based on those you might find in the contemporary world of the Lower East Side. Viola and Sebastian, played by Amanda Dillard and Skylar Gallun, are a common sight: lost visitors. Sir Toby, played by Alexander Colla, is a tribute to some of the affectionate drunks who have peppered the audiences of past years. Olivia, as played by Victoria Campbell, is based on wealthy, status-seeking residents of the neighborhood who populate its stately blue silver towers that were absent when these Shakespeare productions began. Andy Markert is modeling Andrew Aguecheek on Euro-tech millionaires who have moved there. Jonathan Eric Foster is playing Feste as a cross-dressing drag queen. The servant characters, most notably Malvolio (David Marantz) and Maria (Evangeline Fontaine) represent the now-growing service class of the Lower East Side, where in doorman-staffed palaces, we now see – shudder – houseboys and manservants. Director Hamilton Clancy explains,”Like the Lower East side itself, the Parking Lot is a melting pot for people and meeting spot for people from a wide range of differences. Shakespeare speaks to human diversity and performing it in the Parking Lot has always seemed the perfect frame for us. This production aims to celebrate that.”
Jennifer Varbalow, who has designed six past parking lot shows and recently “Hamlet” for Bryant Park Shakespeare, returns as scenic designer. Costume design is by Nina Vartainian and original music is by Jonathan Eric Foster. Kathy Curtis is text consultant and fight director.
The cast is: Nathan Ramos as Orsino, Joe Clancy as Curio, Gordon Palaggi as Valentine, Amanda Dillard as Viola, Alessandro Colla as Sir Toby Belch, Jonathan Eric Forster as Feste, Evangeline Fontaine as Maria, Andy Markert as Andrew Aguecheek, David Marantz as Malvolio, Mary Linehan as Fabia and Michael Imperato as The Captain.
Director Hamilton Clancy is Founder and Producing Artistic Director of The Drilling Company, which is now in its 16th year. He can be seen on TV in “Orange is the New Black” as C.O. Kowalski and in an upcoming episode of the NBC pirate series, “Crossbones” with John Malkovich. He has produced 18 Shakespeare productions in the Parking Lot and directed ten, including “Richard III,” “Cymbeline,” “Merry Wives of Windsor,” “Coriolanus,” “Measure of Measure,” “Julius Caesar” and “Hamlet.” His 2011 “Hamlet” production was reprised last month as the inaugural performance of Bryant Park Shakespeare. Clancy also staged The Drilling Company’s acclaimed production of “Reservoir” by Eric Henry Sanders, a modern adaptation of “Woyzeck,” in 2010-2011 at The Drilling Company’s intimate theater at 236 West 78th Street. Among other notable stage appearances, he has acted in ten Shakespeare in the Parking Lot productions and played Tor in The Drilling Company’s long-running Off-Broadway comedy, “The Norwegians” by C. Denby Swanson.
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot continues this summer July 31 to August 16 with “Othello,” directed by Hamilton Clancy.
ABOUT SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARKING LOT
Since 1995, free Shakespeare has been presented to over 40,000 patrons in the Municipal Parking Lot at Ludlow and Broome Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The plays are presented in a working parking lot, so you can drive there but you should expect to pay the Muni-meter.
Why a parking lot? The Drilling Company’s founding artistic director Hamilton Clancy writes, “It is a tremendously accessible gathering place in the heart of the city. Like most companies that do Shakespeare we are following the spirit of Joseph Papp. But putting our own spin on it by placing it in a parking lot, making an urban wrinkle.”
Shows are offered while the lot is in use. The action sometimes happens around a parked car which drives away during a performance. At such times, the players stop and the audience moves its chairs, pausing the performance the same way a show would stop for rain uptown in Central Park. It’s all part of the fun.
Seats are available on a first come first serve basis, with audience members often arriving as early as 7:00 PM to secure a place. You are encouraged and welcome to bring your own chair. Once seats are gone, blankets are spread out. “We’ve never turned anyone away and there’s never a wait for tickets!” brags Clancy.
The productions are typically intrepid, bare-boned and often gloriously ingenious adaptations of the classics. For example, in 2010, Hamilton Clancy staged “Julius Caesar” as a battle for control of an urban school system, with women playing Brutus and Cassius. In 2011, director Kathy Curtiss set “The Comedy of Errors” in a pizzeria in Little Italy.
This summer’s offerings are supported by the Department for Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts, Con Edison, and the Department of Transportation.
All performances will be staged in the Municipal Parking Lot at the corner of Ludlow and Broome Streets, Manhattan. (Subways: F to Delancey Street, walk one block south.) Performances are FREE and play Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM. For more info call 212-873-9050 or visit www.shakespeareintheparkinglot.com.