Volume 74, Number 12 | July 21 - 27, 2004


Free Shakespeare in the Park?

By Jerry Tallmer

Theater lovers were informed by a recent story in the Sunday drama section of The New York Times that 100 lawyers from the art-loving firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom had attended a July 1 performance of the Joseph Papp Public Theater’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing” in Central Park.

The 100 legal eagles did not have to stand in line but had tickets at the ready. Seats had been reserved for them. “The firm’s bill was $10,000,” said reporter Jason Zinoman’s dispatch. He then appended an inquiry:

“Hold on. Reserved seats for law firms certainly doesn’t sound like the democratic vision of Joseph Papp, the founder of ‘free Shakespeare’ in Central Park . . . Isn’t free Shakespeare in the park supposed to be, well, free?”

Well, yes. And in Joe Papp’s day, or in any event the first half-dozen years of that day, the rich and mighty had to show up at the Delacorte and stand in line for admission to every show just like all the rest of us — the hoi polloi, the young lovers, the old geezers, the Shakespeare freaks, the press. I have a pretty vivid memory of something that illustrated this rather well.

The New York Post in those years had an agony (i.e. advice) columnist named Dr. Rose Franzblau. This energetic lady had one overarching piece of advice for all readers under any and all problem-wracked circumstances: Marriage breaking up? Go to a shrink. Mother dying? Go to a shrink. Lose your job? Go to a shrink. Not getting sex? Go to a shrink. Too much sex? Go to a shrink. Don’t know what sex you are? Go to a shrink.

I don’t think she ever knew this, but I once, back on The Village Voice, wrote a review (an unkind review) of the Broadway production of William Inge’s “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” in the form of an advice-seeking letter from a neurotic teenager to Dr. Rose Franzblau.

She was, in fact, herself, as a theater fan and investor, extremely visible at each and every Broadway opening, where she would always arrive 10 minutes early, stand in the aisle in her fur coat by her seat in the fifth or sixth row, her back to the stage, and remain there, waving to this one and that one — as you might say, counting the house –- until the lights went down.

Confession of a misbegotten youth: I once was a Tony voter. And once, where the ballot says: “Best Female Supporting Performance in a Musical,” I wrote in: “Dr. Rose Franzblau.”

Ah well.

The telephone rang. I was now on the New York Post. “Who is this?” said a female voice. I identified myself. “Dollink,” said the voice, “this is Dr. Rose Franzblau. You write like an angel.

Look, dollink, I want to ask a little favor. I have some friends, five very important people, coming in for the weekend. I want to take them to Shakespeare in the park, but I don’t want to have us have to stand in line. Could you call someone there and ask for that to be arranged?”

I said: “Dr. Franzblau, the someone there is Joseph Papp, and he requires EVERYBODY to stand in line.”

“Dollink, please, just try.”

“Dr. Franzblau, I’m sure he won’t do it.”

“These are five very important people . . . ”

“Dr. Franzblau . . . ”

“Did I tell you that you write like an angel? Joseph Papp would listen to you.”

So I tried. I called Joseph Papp, whose infusion of dramatic lifeblood into this city I had been covering ever since he’d started out in the mid-’50s on East (very far east) 6th Street as the Shakespearean Workshop Theater. I now communicated to him that New York Post columnist Rose Franzblau wanted to bring herself and five other people to the show in the park and not have to stand in line.

Joe Papp said: “Tell Dr. Rose Franzblau to go f—- herself.”

I called Dr. Franzblau, but I did not tell her that. I just said: “Dr. Franzblau, he won’t do it.”

There was a bit of a pause on the phone. And then Rose Franzblau said: “You could try again . . . Dollink, let me ask you just one question: Are you a nice Jewish boy?”

And that’s what I think of –- Rose Franzblau and Joe Papp — when I read of the New York Shakespeare Festival’s sale to Skadden, Arps of $10,000 worth of non-standing-in-line tickets to “Much Ado About Nothing.”

The same arts-loving playgoers from Skadden, Arps, incidentally, who –- some of them –- stood in the lobby of their building on Times Square a few months ago and demanded that the vivid socio-critical sculptures of long-time SoHo artist Bernard Aptekar be taken down before they even went up. I’d like to have sold tickets to that much ado.

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