No Pound of Flesh for Pacino, but $1.4 Million for Shakespeare in the Park

public175 No Pound of Flesh for Pacino, but $1.4 Million for Shakespeare in the Park“I think my favorite Shakespeare play would have to be Romeo and Juliet. Is that too common?” First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris asked the Transom at the Public Theater’s annual gala celebrating Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theatre. She sighed, “I don’t know. I’m a romantic.”

This year’s production cast Al Pacino as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. The last time the play was produced by the public theater was in 1962 with George C. Scott as Shylock and a looming but finally unrealized threat of picketing for anti-Semitism from the New York Board of Rabbis.

“This play is very timely in that it reminds us that credit default swaps have always sucked,” NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin quipped to the audience on behalf of Mayor Bloomberg.

A cluster of circular party tables clothed in key-lime-green tablecloths hosted a variety of theater supporters grouped by benefactor. At Nora Ephron’s table, Bette Midler, Joel Klein and Bob Balaban gossiped across trays of macaroons, Ms. Midler whooping upon the announcement that $1.4 million had been raised at the event.

At a neighboring table, Naomi Watts and husband Liev Schreiber were swapping sweet nothings. Mr. Schreiber, who is on the board of the Public Theater, later told the Transom what he thought of Merchant‘s anti-Semitism,

“I think that’s what makes it so good. That’s what makes him so brilliant as a writer, that duality. There was not a more anti-Semitic place, really, in the world, outside of 1940s Berlin, than Elizabethan England. They were extremely anti-Semitic, yet this writer still felt compelled to write a soliloquy like ‘hath not a Jew eyes, feelings, senses, emotions.’

“I think that’s what makes this play so remarkable. Because you somehow can’t blame Shylock. At the end of the day, you come away from this play thinking, ‘Poor Shylock,’ which is a remarkable thing for a writer in Elizabethan England to do.”

Journalist and CNN pundit Fareed Zakaria was elegantly shoveling salmon into his mouth while listening to Sam Waterston’s introduction of the evening’s honoree, Lincoln Center and Public Theater maven Bernard Gersten.

Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly arrived late, two pairs of glasses suspended around his neck, a third pair perched on his nose (none of them sunglasses). “I love Twelfth Night and I love Much Ado About Nothing,” said Nora Ephron, queen of the contemporary rom-com. “I’m into the comedies, and short! I’m a fan of all the short plays!”

Glee star Jonathan Groff, with cherubic, face-framing curls and James Dean dark wash jeans, was accosted by so many young female fans that many mistook him for a Twilight cast member. NBC anchor Dan Abrams set the record straight, “No, it can’t be Twilight. If he was in Twilight, he would have serious security; that thing is out of control.”

Early in Act I, Mr. Pacino declined a dinner invitation with the Christians, “to smell pork!?” He wrinkled his nose. Nervous laughter skittered across the audience. In the row to the Transom’s right sat a Bernstein, a Lebow and a Rubin.