Bloomberg Speaks the Speech! Public Theater Unveils a Revitalized Home at Official Opening Ceremony
By Robert Simonson
Those who have been longing to hear Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrap his nasal New-York-by-way-of-Boston accent around the Bard's verse got their wish Oct. 4, when Hizzoner spoke a few lines of Shakespeare at the official unveiling of the newly renovated Public Theater space on Lafayette Street in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan.
"Joy, gentle friends!" said Bloomberg, in what the Mayor joked was an audition for work, since he will be out of a job in a year's time. "Joy and fresh days of love/Accompany your hearts!" The words were from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Bloomberg was one of dozens drafted by Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis to utter various snatches of First Folio fodder in an abstract benediction of the new digs, which have transformed Joe's Pub, the lobby, the dressing rooms, the newly opened mezzanine, the bathrooms, the outer entryway and much more, at cost a total of $40 million. The other speakers were as varied as The Swan of Avon's efforts. Among them were: actors Liev Schreiber, Mandy Patinkin, Colman Domingo, Vanessa Redgrave and Jay O. Sanders; playwrights David Henry Hwang, Diane Son, Suzan-Lori Parks and Richard Foreman; composer Stew; politicians Christine Quinn and Scott Stringer; designer David Rockwell; Joe Papp's widow Gail Papp; and architect Jim Polshek.
Each selection was tailored to the speaker. "I have lived," said Gail Papp, speaking verse from Coriolanus, "To see inherited my very wishes,/And the buildings of my fancy." Eustis thought Polshek, who authored the renovation, was particularly well matched to his words. (Eustis and Barry Edelstein, the director of the Public's Shakespeare Initiative, plucked the various selections.) Taken from Henry IV, the passage went: "When we mean to build,/We first survey the plot, then draw the model;/And when we see the figure of the house,/Then must we rate the cost of erection." The lines assigned to Manhattan Borough President Stringer, from The Tempest, arguably came a close second: "Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,/Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not."
The crowd that had gathered for the morning event milled about the new, oval, center bar that now dominates the lobby, under newly bright and white ceilings. The space is lined by restored classical pillars and adorned by "Shakespeare Machine," artist Ben Rubin's large-scale multimedia sculpture which features 37 LED display screens on which are text fragments from Shakespeare's 37 plays. Bloomberg joked that he hadn't read all of the Bard's plays, but was planning to get to the 37th play tomorrow.
"Forty-five years ago, the city rented this library to Joe Papp for the enormous sum of $1 a year," said the mayor. "By coincidence, that's what I get paid. So that's the only thing I have in common with Joe Papp. But clearly he knew how to drive a hard bargain. Having said that, [the city has] been richly repaid by the classics presented here and the rich cultural heritage he created here."
Upon taking the stage, Eustis pointed out that the mayor and the president of the Ford Foundation — a major project donor — had "both used the name of The Scottish Play in this theatre." In the superstitious world of the stage, saying Macbeth in a theatre is big no-no; it is said to bring a curse upon the house. "Maybe that's the headline The Daily News can use tomorrow," quipped Eustis.
"150 years ago, Alexis de Toqueville, in his book 'Democracy in America,' wrote a chapter about theatre," Eustis continued. "One of the things he said...the theatre was the one place in America where all classes may gather, rich and poor. That's not always true today. But it must be true, for the theatre to serve its purpose… To quote my favorite president, 'You didn't build that. We all built this.' Hundreds of thousands have built this theatre — designers, patrons, artists, staff, all of us. The entire thing has been about trying to tell the world: 'Come in, gather, make it your space.' That's what this renovation is."
The commemoration of the Public Theater's renovation will continue over the next two months through a series of cultural events. Among them is a block party and open house on Oct 13, from noon to 5 PM, in which Lafayette Street between Astor Place and West 4th Street will be partially closed to traffic. There will be performances from Joe's Pub at The Public, sneak peeks from The Public's 2012-2013 season and gourmet food trucks. Tours of the revitalized Public Theater at Astor Place will be available. Everything is free.
The ceremony was concluded when ensemble members from the recent Public Theater revival of Hair, standing on the mezzanine balcony and looking over the crowd, sang "The Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine In." Hair was the first production ever presented by the Public/New York Shakespeare Festival in its first, and thus far only, permanent home.
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