For 61 years, The Public Theater has presented FREE Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. Of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic, theater is not happening in physical locations this year. Thinking very much outside the box, The Public Theater teamed up with National Public Radio (NPR) and recently presented the brilliant Shakespearean classic, “Richard II,” as “Richard II on the Radio,” sponsored by Mount Sinai Hospital and broadcast on WNYC and NPR from July 13-16 at 8 p.m.

Putting this play on was a feat in and of itself. The play, about a king whose actions get him betrayed and cause him to lose his throne, was dedicated to the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the production was superbly done!

The Public Theater always seeks to make Shakespeare relatable to everyone, and the programs that are normally given out at performances are full of information, naming and describing each character and how they interact in the plot. So for this radio production, each evening a narrator describes the setting for the listening audience, and explains what the scene is about to contain. While you listen to the interviews and performances on your computer, you’re also given an on-screen synopsis of the storyline for each performance. One can also access the script if one chooses to do so, making it very accessible and easy to follow along with and stimulating to hear.

The actors, in a mainly Black cast, rehearsed the play and then recorded their performances on Zoom. So much time and care was taken to get this to happen, and it was well worth it. And again, The Public Theater thought outside the box when it came to casting, as Henry Bolingbroke was played by Miriam A. Hyman and Richard II by Andre Holland.

Each performance was hosted by Vincent Cunningham, a Black writer for the New Yorker magazine, and he was absolutely magnificent as he interviewed not only the cast members about their characters and the relevance of this play in today’s society, but also Shakespearean scholars, and the production’s director, Saleem Ali.

The cast performances were captivating. The actors of color, many veterans of the stage, included Andre Holland as Richard II; Miriam A. Hyman as Henry Bolingbroke; Lupita Nyong’o as the narrator; Sean Carvajal as Gardener’s Man/Surrey; Sanjit De Silva as Mowbray/Exton; Biko Eisen-Martin as Fitzwater; Stephen McKinley Henderson as Gardener; Elijah Jones as Hotspur; Jacob Ming-Trent as Carlisle; Maria Mukuka as Queen’s Lady/Servant; Okwin Okpokwasili as Willoughby/Abbot; Phylicia Rashad as the Duchess of Gloucester; Thom Sesma as Ross/Keeper; John Douglas Thompson as York; Natalie Woolams-Torres as Green; Sathya Sridharan as Bagot; and Ja’siah Young as Groom. The remaining members of this gifted company include Barzin Akhavan as Salisbury/Marshall; Michael Bradley Cohen as Bushy; Michael Gaston as Northumberland; Merritt Janson as Scroop; Dakin Matthews as Gaunt; Estelle Parsons as the Duchess of York, Tom Pecinka as Aumerle; Reza Salazar as Welsh Captain; and Claire Van Der Boom as the Queen.

Yes, it is still on NPR and it is free, just visit: www.npr.org/podcasts/8876138601/free-shakespeare-on-the-radio-richard-i-i. There you can also find out how to access the script and follow along with the synopsis. During this time of the Black Lives Matter Movement, this play is something stirring to experience. It is always marvelous when actors are committed to their work but are also so keenly in-tune with what is happening in society, which makes the work more relevant. Listen to find out what I’m talking about. Also, during a time when we are proclaiming from the rooftops and in the streets that “Black Lives Matter,” it was gigantic that a Black man, who was king, lost his throne, not to a white actor, but to a Black woman, playing the role of Henry Bolingbroke. Black Lives Matter, Black Relationships Matter, Black Talent Matters!

Every facet of this production flows. Shakespeare’s use of verse will have you mesmerized, and the cast will keep you completely engaged. As the narrator describes each scene, I recommend you close your eyes—when I did that I could visualize it. BRAVO Public Theater, the acting company and NPR. Thank you!