Troupe reinforcement! The Public Theater brings ‘Richard III’ to Fort Hamilton

Lynn Hawley and Ron Cephas Jones star in The Public Theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit production of “Richard III.”
Photo by Joan Marcus

The Public Theater is on the march — and its marching right to Fort Hamilton.

The thespian troupe is bringing its production of Richard III to the Bay Ridge military institution as it honors the venerable theater’s original mission, organizers say.

“[Public Theater founder] Joseph Papp’s original vision was that they would pack up and get actors in the parks, streets, and plazas in the city,” said actor Ron Cephas Jones, who plays the crippled duke who plots for the throne of England. “For the past two years we’ve gone back to having a program where we can bring Shakespeare to the public.”

The Public Theater’s small, portable troupe, which they call the “Mobile Shakespeare Unit,” has spent the last month performing in dramatically undeserved areas — city shelters, prisons, and senior centers as they prepare for a three week run of Richard III at their home stage in Manhattan.

The show’s producers said Fort Hamilton was a natural for their unit’s three week tour — especially if you consider the play’s political subject matter.

“The play is very much about questions of power, and what makes someone a viable leader compared to what makes somebody a terrible leader. I think people will connect to that,” said Barry Edelstein, the director of the Shakespeare Initiative. “We’ve been very interested in trying to reach out to veterans, for both diversity of geography and constituency.”

The production at the army base, which serves about 500 full-time active duty personnel, 126 Army Reserve units and 100,000 veterans, will also be open to the civilian public, the show’s organizers said.

But Jones said the main challenge of Fort Hamilton’s performance of “Richard III” won’t be the sea of uniforms watching them.

“In a theater you know what to expect in the atmosphere, but when you’re always performing at new places like this where the lighting in each place is different, or there’s no air-conditioning, or you have to speak over fans, people are moving around and maybe eating. You have to really focus on the story,” he said. “But a military audience is the same as any other audience. All the human feelings are there in Shakespeare, that’s what is so beautiful about it.”

Richard III at the Fort Hamilton Community Club [101st Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway, (718) 630-4772] on August 3, 7 pm. Free. Register at www.hamiltonmwr.com

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

The Public Theater is bringing “Richard III” to New York City’s last active military base, Fort Hamilton in Bay Ridge, on Aug. 3.
Photo by Joan Marcus

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