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Nature's Your Co-Star, So Keep It Lively An actor preps for Shakespeare in the Park's "Into the Woods"

By MARK BLANKENSHIP

It takes a certain kind of art---and a certain kind of artist---to suit the Delacorte Theatre. A grand outdoor venue, it's been the permanent home of the Public's Shakespeare in the Park festival since 1962, enticing audiences every summer who want to see live theatre in the living forest of Central Park.

"You can feel in the architecture that that space is meant to tell epic stories," says Oskar Eustis, the Public's artistic director, and he's right: The Delacorte has a large stage surrounded by a massive semicircle of seats, and no matter where you sit, you can see trees and buildings overhead. "It's meant to tell stories that are about groups of people, not private and domestic sagas," Eustis adds. "And that's a pleasure."

It makes sense, then, that tonight is the first performance of Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical about fairy tale characters who live beyond their "happily ever afters." As Jack, for instance, faces the aftermath of the beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood deals with life after the Big Bad Wolf, they have to grapple with their identities and the consequences of their actions.

It's challenging enough for actors to perform this ambitious, musically intricate show in a regular theatre, and the Delacorte asks for something extra. "It rewards a generosity of spirit," Eustis says. "You've got almost two thousand people out there, and I don't like to think the actors are competing with New York City, but they're nonetheless in the middle of New York City. With the air, with the road, even with the water when the ducks are splashing. The actors who do the best out there are the ones who enjoy the scale and the size of that."

So far, Gideon Glick has been savoring the largeness. Perhaps best known as Ernst, the sensitive gay soul in the rock musical Spring Awakening, he's currently playing Jack, and while there might be superficial similarities between the young male characters who are finding themselves, Glick says Jack pushing him to new places. "He's certainly boyish, which I've done before, but he's also this guy grappling with how to be a man and how to take responsibility," he says. "He's an adventurer, and part of his journey is that he doesn't think of consequence. He just goes feet-first. He has a sense of <i>getting</i> an axe and going to find a giant, and I haven't played a part like that before."

For Glick, embodying that heroism partly means ignoring what other characters say about Jack. "Everyone talks about him as a dimwitted boy, or 'he's stupid.' But I can't be conscious of that," he says. "There a certain naiveté that he has and a willingness for adventure, and until I started doing it, I didn't realize how potent it is. I find that when I leave rehearsals, I'm a bit hyperactive and bouncing off the walls, but it suits the character rather well."

Glick has also taken inspiration from John Lee Beatty's set. "It's a jungle gym," he explains. "I get to sing 'Giants in the Sky' on the third level of a set in the middle of the park at night. I think that will have an energy of its own."

Still, as he prepares for his first audience, Glick is aware of what the Delacorte and the show demands "This is probably the hardest I've ever had to work," he says. "Which is terrifying and greatly rewarding."

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Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor