Shakespeare in the Park returns with COVID-era 'Hamlet' this summer

Shakespeare in the Park returns with COVID-era ‘Hamlet’ this summer

The Public Theater announced on Thursday that this summer’s 61st anniversary season of Shakespeare in the Park will be a pandemic version of “Hamlet” at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. This year’s production will be directed by Tony Award winner Kenny Leon and feature Tony nominee Ato Blankson-Wood in the title role.

The Public Theater describes Leon’s version of “Hamlet” as a “riveting, contemporary post-COVID take on Shakespeare’s classic tale of family and betrayal.” The production will have an extended nine-week run, June 8 through Aug. 6.

“I’m so happy to be at the Delacorte once again and to share something that binds us to one another,” Leon said in a press statement. “A 500-year-old play exploring the need for a strong foundation of family, with music and words, Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ has much to say about humanity and the importance of our connectedness to each other. We set this production in 2021, filled with all of the challenges we face as Americans as we explore our need to love more profoundly both nature and its people.”

Leon, who won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for “A Raisin in the Sun” in 2014, previously directed a production of “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Delacorte in 2019. He’s directed 13 Broadway plays in his career, including “Topdog/Underdog” and “Ohio State Murders” during the current season.

Wood was nominated for a 2021 Tony Award for his performance in Jeremy O. Harris’s “Slave Play.” Last summer, he starred in Shakespeare in the Park’s presentation of “As You Like It,” in a musical adaptation mounted by the Public Theater program Public Works.

Kenny Leon and Ato Blankson-Wood.

Lelund Durond Thompson (left); JJ Geiger (right)

“Hamlet” has previously been staged at the Delacorte four times, most recently in 2008 with Michael Stuhlbarg in the title role, Lauren Ambrose as Ophelia, André Braugher as Claudius and David Harbour as Laertes.

After mounting no productions in 2020 because of the pandemic, the Public Theater staged “Merry Wives,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” for reduced-capacity crowds in 2021. Last summer, they welcomed back full audiences to see “Richard III,” starring “Black Panther” and “The Walking Dead” star Danai Gurira and directed by Tony nominee Robert O’Hara, as well as “As You Like It,” which was originally scheduled for the canceled 2020 season.

The Public Theater is still determining safety protocols for this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park, and updated details will be made available by April 2023. Last summer, proof of vaccination was not required to enter the Public, but masking was required for Tuesday evening, Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon performances to accommodate immunocompromised people. For other performances, masks were strongly encouraged, but not required.

A rendering of the future Delacorte Theater.

Rendering by Ennead Architects

Last fall, the pre-construction phase of a $77 million renovation of the Delacorte began with a focus on interior updates. The work will continue next fall with changes to the front exterior, upgrades to modernize back-of-house theatrical operations, increased access for people living with disabilities, better seating and upgraded lighting.

As Rosalind Barbour, the Public Theater’s administrative chief of staff, previously told Gothamist, this summer’s production won’t be interrupted by that work.

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