By Matt Wolf
01 Aug 2012
|Photo by Michal Daniel|
You might think that the New York Shakespeare Festival (the predecessor to The Public Theater) existed to do only Shakespeare, but in fact that's not the case when it comes to a nonprofit institution that has spread its theatrical wings well beyond the Bard. Richard Nelson, Caryl Churchill, Sam Shepard, Larry Kramer, Suzan-Lori Parks, David Henry Hwang, and David Hare are among the many contemporary writers from whom The Public has commissioned new work, past and present, while the musical theatre remains crucial to the work of the organization that, let us not forget, first gave us A Chorus Line nearly 40 years ago and premiered the revolutionary musical Hair in 1967 at their downtown home on Lafayette Street.
So it should come as no surprise to find this summer's Shakespeare in the Park 50th anniversary at the Delacorte coupling As You Like It with Into the Woods, marking in the latter instance an opportunity for the ever-popular Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical from 1987 to be seen in much the same sylvan setting indicated in its title. And at this point in his altogether singular career, it doesn't seem too fanciful to mention Shakespeare and Sondheim in the same breath. The comparison, says Oskar Eustis, The Public's artistic director, is more than apt, not least in descriptive terms: "What I love about Into the Woods is that it demands a breadth of population when it comes to who gets to possess the stage; it doesn't limit itself to one class or social strata" — any more than Shakespeare has ever done. And, of course, As You Like It follows its own journey into the Forest of Arden, so the transformative milieu of the natural world is a theme shared by both pieces of work.