- The Public Theater’s gala performance takes on race, politics
- Taubman, Lin-Manuel Miranda also attend event in Central Park
Meryl Streep made her face a shade of orange on Monday night, then whipped up her hair and stuffed a pillow or two under a dark business suit and red tie. She was Trump for the finale of the Public Theater’s one-night-only gala performance exploring Shakespeare’s influence on America.
It was a show of Shakespearean activism that completely bowled over the audience, including activist investors Dan Loeb and Barry Rosenstein.
Streep certainly had her pick of ripe moments from the Bard to channel the Donald. Wouldn’t it have been nice to see her recite "to be, or not to be?" Or she could have played the presidential candidate enduring the taunting of three witches. Instead, Streep’s Trump was a thug from the 1948 musical "Kiss Me, Kate," alongside Christine Baranski playing her elegant self.
So there was Trump, with the New York accent and flapping arms, putting his own spin on Cole Porter’s "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" about the wooing of women.
"Problem now with society, we’re all hung up on propriety," sang Streep, who got bawdier as the song went on: "She can sample my Measure for Measure."
The show at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, titled "The United States of America," was crafted by Jeremy McCarter, who hosted with James Shapiro, editor of the Library of America volume "Shakespeare in America." There were sections about Abraham Lincoln’s affection for the Elizabethan playwright and the prejudiced responses to the interracial couple in "Othello." The first light break came with the balcony scene from "Romeo and Juliet," followed by the "West Side Story" version.
Streep’s number, with its nod to current events, had the crowd roaring right into the after party, where Third Point’s Loeb got a drink as a DJ spun Aerosmith, Prince, and Bell Biv Devoe.
The Public presents free performances of Shakespeare plays at the Delacorte attended by about 100,000 people annually. This season’s offerings are "Taming of the Shrew" and "Troilus and Cressida."
"We believe in something we call civic culture, because culture is not just something that can be bought," said Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public. "It needs to be shared with everybody."
The outdoor setting usually includes some mosquitoes, stargazing and city intrusions, like the sirens that went off during Streep and Baranski’s number.
"There’s a sense of serendipity, when you’re here and the weather changes at exactly the right time or exactly the wrong time, or there’s a raccoon," said Corey Stoll, who will appear in "Troilus and Cressida."
"It’s a play about political intrigue and about how absurd war is, and how the reason you began gets completely lost as you get sucked into the quagmire. I think it’s good to remember we’re still at war."
A star nurtured by the Public, Lin-Manuel Miranda, attended with his wife and parents. Jeff Barker, Bank of America’s president for New York State, recalled meeting the Mirandas at a shiva. The lender was honored as the season sponsor of Shakespeare in the Park for 10 years.
A supper al fresco -- no tent, no rain -- preceded the performance with a menu that won the approval of Sandra Lee, a guest of Barry and Lizanne Rosenstein. The first course was roasted artichoke salad; the second was pan-seared chicken with cornbread pudding. (For those attending performances on other nights, Public Theater board Chair Arielle Tepper Madover said the Danny Meyer-blessed sandwiches at the concessions are delicious.)
There were almost 1,000 guests, a record, raising "way more" than $2 million, said Rachel Pivnick, the Public’s chief financial officer. (By noon Tuesday the total had reached more than $2.5 million.)
Paul Taubman sat with Len Tessler and Ashley Leeds, the co-chair of the gala, whose dad, Larry Leeds, and husband, Christopher Harland, were one table over. Samantha Power sat with Tom Bernstein, recording Streep’s performance on her phone to show her husband, Cass Sunstein, who was in Chicago promoting his new book "The World According to Star Wars."
Charles Hale of Hale Global, who is behind the turnaround at hyper-local news website Patch, enjoyed the location, just beyond the party’s borders of New Yorkers being local in the early evening hour -- walking their dogs, cruising on skate boards, pushing strollers. Peter Wallace of Blackstone and Chris Kojima of Goldman Sachs ruled over the eastern edge of the dinner party with "Hamilton" director Thomas Kail, and Ron Chernow, biographer of Hamilton, occupied a spot up north. George Walker, CEO of Neuberger Berman, and Matt Pincus of Song Music Publishing also were among the pre-performance crowd. Pledge cards on every table let guests enter a drawing to win tickets to "Hamilton," with donations of $100 and up.