NEW YORK CITY: So she’s 62 and he’s 64. So what? It’s a staged reading. And it rekindles a perennial what-if among those actors who’ve been paired over the years.

On Monday June 18, Meryl Streep will play Juliet to Kevin Kline’s Romeo in a one-night reading directed by Daniel Sullivan (who is quickly establishing a name for himself as a Shakespearean interpreter). The event is 50th anniversary of Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater, in which the Public Theater is charging tickets at $1,500 a pop.

To make that night worth the price, Al Pacino will be honored for his body of work with the Public, which includes his playing Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” in 2010. There will also be dinner al fresco and a party after the reading. The benefit event is being chaired by Public Theater Board Members Arielle Tepper Madover and Alexandra Shiva

Maybe it is the ticket price that got people in a conniption. An Entertainment Weekly writer kvetched:

Kline and Streep certainly have the gravitas to pull off Romeo and Juliet, but the wrinkled elephant in the room — their ages. Will Montague be played by Mickey Rooney? Will the nurse be less of a matronly figure for Juliet, and more of a Golden Girl BFF? And will Friar Laurence look like the Crypt Keeper? I know 60 isn’t that old, but a more appropriate title may be Romeo & Juliet: Off Their Rockers, would it not?

PopWatchers, monologue for me: How will Kev and Meryl pull this one off? Aren’t they just alittle old? Are you planning to grab a ticket for the spectacular Shakespearean event?

Though I am sure this pop-culture writer is just trying to air his wit, what’s implicit here is ageism. That somehow actors are not able to perform parts beyond their natural age. That kind of reality-fed naturalism is one of those obstacles that keep our stages from being diverse and truly imaginative. Without question Streep and Kline already feel the daunting nature of playing younger characters, but I think in the theater we have the capacity for imagination that ought to allow us (and them) to wonder what it might have been if they actually played Romeo and Juliet in Central Park, as opposed to embarking on movie careers. It is interesting to contemplate.

Without question, the price is indeed very high. You are not likely to see me running out to see this reading. Beyond my price league. But what-if indeed.

Prior to this reading Meryl Streep has performed five times at the Delacorte since 1976. And Kevin Kline has performed nine times since 1970. Together, they appeared in The Seagull and Mother Courage and her Children.

For information on tickets for The Public Theater’s Anniversary Gala, please call (212) 539-8547 or visit http://www.shakespeareinthepark.org. A limited number of free stand-by line tickets will be available on the day of the gala at the Delacorte Theater.

Meryl Streep | Photo by Brigitte Lacombe
Meryl Streep | Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

The Delacorte Theater in Central Park officially opened on June 18, 1962 with a production of The Merchant of Venice, directed by Public Theater founder Joe Papp and Gladys Vaughn and featuring the then-unknown actors George C. Scott and James Earl Jones. Conceived by Papp as a way to make great theater accessible to all, over the past 50 years more than five million people have enjoyed more than 100 free productions of Shakespeare and other classical works and musicals at the Delacorte.

“For 50 years the Delacorte Theater has been home to the greatest American actors, who have been able to hone their artistry in the most beautiful, democratic theater in the world. Romeo and Juliet will be a celebration of those actors, a joyous love letter to the Delacorte, to Central Park and to New York City,” said artistic director Oskar Eustis in a prepared statement. “Meryl is the greatest actress of our age, and Kevin is America’s preeminent Shakespearean. Their partnership, which has stretched over 30 years, has provided some of the most incandescent moments in our dramatic history. This unforgettable evening will be a spectacular addition to that history and a perfect way to celebrate 50 years of Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte. It will also give us the breathtaking chance to see Meryl and Kevin play the Balcony scene.”

Kevin Kline | Photo courtesy of the Public Theater
Kevin Kline | Photo courtesy of the Public Theater

Footnote: The Public Theater has produced Romeo and Juliet only twice before at the Delacorte (1968 and 2007).

Tickets for The Public Theater’s Anniversary Gala on Monday, June 18 begin at $1,500. For more information, please call (212) 539-8547 or visit http://www.shakespeareinthepark.org.

ABOUT THE PUBLIC THEATER’S DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION

The revitalization of The Public Theater’s downtown home will physically manifest the Company’s core mission of sparking new dialogues and increasing accessibility for artists and audiences by dramatically opening up its landmark building to the street and community, and transforming the lobby into a public piazza for artists, students, and audiences. Designed by Ennead Architects, the project encompasses enhancements to the building’s interior and exterior while preserving the historic structure. Key elements of the design include infrastructure updates to the 158-year old building, as well as construction of new exterior entry stair and glass canopy; installation of ramps for improved accessibility; an expanded and refurbished lobby; the addition of a mezzanine level with a new lounge, designed by the Rockwell Group; expansion and remodeling of restroom facilities; and comprehensive exterior restoration, ensuring stability of the landmark façade.

ABOUT THE PUBLIC THEATER
The only theater in New York that produces Shakespeare and the classics, musicals, contemporary and experimental pieces in equal measure, The Public continues the work of its visionary founder, Joe Papp, by acting as an advocate for the theater as an essential cultural force, and leading and framing dialogue on some of the most important issues of our day. Creating theater for one of the largest and most diverse audience bases in New York City for nearly 60 years, today the Company engages audiences in a variety of venues—including its landmark downtown home, which houses five theaters and Joe’s Pub; the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, home to the beloved, free Shakespeare in the Park; and the Mobile Shakespeare Unit, which tours Shakespearean productions for underserved audiences throughout New York City’s five boroughs. The Public’s wide range of programming includes free Shakespeare in the Park, the bedrock of the Company’s dedication to making theater accessible to all, new and experimental stagings at its downtown home, and a range of artist and audience development initiatives including its Public Forum series, which brings together theater artists and professionals from a variety of disciplines for discussions that shed light on social issues explored in Public productions. The Public Theater receives annual support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. http://www.publictheater.org

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