The Public Theater, best known for its Shakespeare in the Park series in Central Park, went on the road on the morning of July 26 to bring the words of the Bard to Long Island City.
A couple hundred people filled the top floor of the Fortune Society, a nonprofit providing education, health, family and other services to formerly incarcerated individuals, for the production of “Richard III.”
The crowd, for the most part, was enthralled by this tale of a century-long war between the York and Lancaster families.
Audience members stood up to get a better look at scuffles on the ground and whooped at a kiss between a king and a queen — but not his queen. Some individuals scooted a little farther out of their seats when an actor yelled “You must die, my brother,” and two men were hung.
“It was really exciting. It kept me off my seat,” Fortune Society student Jonathan Gomez said. “At one point I thought I was going to be hit with a chair.”
He admitted the students were required to attend, but said it was an all right way to spend the morning.
The Fortune Society has always integrated theater into its educational programs, Senior Director of Education Eric Appleton said.
David Rothenberg, a playwright and press agent, founded the nonprofit in 1967. He named the society after a play he produced, “Fortune and Men’s Eyes” about a man’s experience in prison, which got its name from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 29.”
“We use theater to help counteract stereotypes,” Appleton said. “Internally, we use it to engage our young people.”
Working up to Thursday’s performance, which was the nonprofit’s second collaboration with The Public Theater, students studied the play and learned about Shakespeare’s work.
Many in the audience had never seen a live performance of a play, said Fortune Society spokeswoman Abby Ross.
“It was really nice. I have never seen anything like it,” Fortune Society student Johnny Prowitt said.
After the show student Mike Dungee went to the computer lab and looked up other plays he could see. A showing of “Plantanos and Collard Greens” caught his eye.
“I would like see more,” he said. “I’ve never seen a play before. It’s like a real-life movie — it’s better than a movie.”
Prowitt also hopes to start acting a little as well.
“I loved it,” said Denise Frazier, who takes reading classes at the Fortune Society, adding she was brought to tears when Lady Ann was killed.