Shakespeare in the Park becomes Shakespeare on the Pod.
Credit: Joan Marcus

This summer all the world will truly be a stage when the venerated New York City tradition Shakespeare in the Park becomes Shakespeare on the Pod.

On Thursday, the Public Theater and radio station WNYC announced plans to produce a four-part radio play of Richard II. The history play was originally slated to kick off the 2020 Free Shakespeare in the Park season at Central Park's Delacorte Theater, but all productions were canceled this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Now the Public Theater and WNYC are joining forces to reimagine Richard II in a production conceived for the radio and directed by Saheem Ali.

André Holland will lead the production as the titular king at the heart of the play. The production will initially be broadcast over four nights, from July 13 through July 16, at 8 p.m. ET on WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820. It will also stream at and WNYC will make the series available as a podcast for on-demand listening.

"A fractured society. A man wrongfully murdered. The palpable threat of violence and revenge against a broken system. Revolution and regime change. This was Shakespeare's backdrop for Richard II. I'm exceptionally proud of this production, recorded for public radio with a predominantly BIPOC ensemble, led by the extraordinary André Holland," Ali said in a statement. "It's my hope that listening to Shakespeare's words, broadcast in the midst of a pandemic and an uprising, will have powerful resonance in our world."

The Public Theater and company are dedicating the production to the Black Lives Matter movement. Richard II tells the story of King Richard II, a vain and ineffective monarch. When he banishes his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, he unwittingly creates an enemy who will ultimately force him from the throne and lay claim to the English crown for the House of Lancaster, kicking off the infamous Wars of the Roses.

The complete cast consists of Barzin Akhavan (Salisbury/Marshall), Sean Carvajal (Gardener's Man/Surrey), Michael Bradley Cohen (Bushy), Sanjit De Silva (Mowbray/Exton), Biko Eisen-Martin (Fitzwater), Michael Gaston (Northumberland), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Gardener), André Holland (King Richard II), Miriam A. Hyman (Bolingbroke), Merritt Janson (Scroop), Elijah Jones (Hotspur), Dakin Matthews (Gaunt), Jacob Ming-Trent (Carlisle), Maria Mukuka (Queen's Lady/Servant), Okwui Okpokwasili (Willoughby/Abbot), Estelle Parsons (Duchess of York), Tom Pecinka (Aumerle), Phylicia Rashad (Duchess of Gloucester), Reza Salazar (Welsh Guard), Thom Sesma (Ross/Keeper), Sathya Sridharan (Bagot), John Douglas Thompson (York), Claire van der Boom (Queen), Natalie Woolams-Torres (Green), and Ja'Siah Young (Groom).

"A ruler, legitimate by the law of the land, begins to not only break the law, but violate the norms and traditions that make a nation function. What is to be done? A country is torn by the upheavals that follow injustice. What could this possibly have to do with America in 2020? Shakespeare's masterpiece is both a political and a psychological exploration," Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis said in a statement. "Filled with some of his most beautiful and profound poetry, spoken by a superb cast of New York actors under the inspired direction of Saheem Ali, this gorgeous radio version will entertain, excite, move, and educate. We are proud to be partnering with WNYC, our sister organization that shares so many of our values, to bring this play to life. We may not have Free Shakespeare in the Park this summer, but we will not let Shakespeare vanish from New York at this crucial time."

Great Performances on PBS will also continue to offer free Shakespeare in the Park to audiences this summer. The series will present an encore national broadcast of the 2019 summer production of Much Ado About Nothing on Aug. 14 at 9 p.m. (though you should check your local listings to be sure). Starring Danielle Brooks and Grantham Coleman as lovers Beatrice and Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing was the first Shakespeare in the Park production to appear on Great Performances in 40 years.

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