By Harry Haun
16 Jun 2012
Few things in life are as head-clearing, as soul-soothing, as some free Shakespeare at sunset in the summertime. New Yorkers have partaken of this urban "vespers therapy" since June 18, 1962, when The Public Theater set up permanent summer residency in Central Park, opening its Delacorte Theater with a production of The Merchant of Venice, directed by The Public's visionary Joseph Papp and starring George C. Scott.
Bernard Gersten, now executive producer of Lincoln Center Theater and then associate producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival, remembers it well — even poetically: "I have a vivid memory of a moment in the first act when George Scott was holding the scarf of his daughter who'd just run off with that Gentile, and he was saying something like, 'My daughter! My jewel!' He held the scarf up, and a breeze took it and wafted it around the stage. It was extraordinary — a really spiritual thing!"
|photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
A great civic free-for-all developed over making Shakespeare free for all, with Papp standing his ground against NYC "master builder" Robert Moses, who felt charges should be made for lawn-upkeep. "They came up with all sorts of stuff — bothering the squirrels . . . ," cracked Merle Debuskey, Papp's media-savvy publicist from the mid-'50s to 1990. He took the argument to the press, where it became a case of David-versus-Goliath. Along the way, critic Walter Kerr suggested in print a compromise: "Joe, charge a quarter. What's that?" Papp was pondering that possibility when his publicist, famously, put things in proper perspective: "Joe, I'll work for Free Shakespeare for nothing, but I won't work for two-bit Shakespeare."Continued...