The show must go on.
The cast, crew and audience at The Public Theater’s staging of William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors put that adage to the test last night when the heavens opened over Central Park’s open-air Delacorte Theater a third of the way into the play. Midsummer rain is a common occurrence for the beloved summer tradition that is Shakespeare in the Park, so the production paused until the thunderstorm let up.
That’s when the crew discovered a setback worthy of an Act Four plot twist: The soundboard had sustained water damage and was completely fried. The stage manager was about to cancel the show when stars Hamish Linklater and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who pull double duty as the play’s two pairs of twins, had an idea.
“Did George C. Scott have a body mic when he did The Merchant of Venice back in 1961 at this same theater?” Ferguson wrote in a Facebook post recapping last night’s unforgettable performance. “Let’s finish the show wireless. Unplugged!”
The company manager agreed to proceed, and Linklater and Ferguson ran onstage to deliver the good news, urging the 600 remaining audience members (out of a capacity crowd of 1,800) to move close to the stage to hear.
“What proceeded was one of the most magical hours of my life,” Ferguson wrote. “The brilliant [actress] De’Adre Aziza started where we left off with her jazz-influenced version of 'Sigh No More,' the audience snapping along to keep the beat. When Emily Bergl knocked a gun out of Tyler Caffall’s hand, the entire company, in unison, yelled ‘BANG’ and then produced the dying cat sound that was meant to follow.”
Even when the downpour resumed, the show continued. “Hamish called it the greatest game of ‘Chicken’ ever played,” Ferguson wrote. “The audience wasn’t leaving because we kept going, and we continued on only because the 600 strong stayed put. Everyone was soaked but at this point, who cared. (Apologies to our brilliant costume designer, Toni-Leslie James, who probably cared a little.)”
The play is a comedy, but the performance left Ferguson in tears. “The audience stayed completely still and silent to hear the final words of the play,” he wrote. “That’s when I lost it. You never would have been able to tell because I was soaking wet, but I started to ugly cry.”
“I was so moved by this shared moment," he continued. "It truly personified why I am fueled to put on silly costumes and wigs and pretend to be someone else in front of a collected group of strangers. When we finally reached the end of the play, the audience exploded into applause. We didn’t bow, though…all we could do was applaud right back to THEM.”