It was a late-April-shirtsleeves day in Illyria. The rabble hooted and clapped as haughty Malvolio flung himself in front of the stone monument in neon-yellow tights criss-crossed with garters. He proclaimed his love for the lady Olivia passionately, comically, loudly enough to carry over a trumpet player wailing the blues back near the arch and the barking of dozens of dachshunds next to the fountain.

A frazzle-bearded man dressed in layers of shabby clothes and a Yankees cap sat near a tree, his ample rump planted on a loop of stout hanging chain that separated pavement from plantings. Ten feet from him, a hipster collected his pit bull’s droppings in a plastic bag. A teenaged girl chatted on her phone, her sneakered foot planted on a bench, next to a dad with his little son on his lap.

The boy drooled. He pointed at the silly man in funky legwear.

Awww. Baby’s first Shakespeare.

Shakespeare in the Park.

But…not that Park.

Shakespeare in Washington Square, actually. No big names; no fur capes and feathered caps. Shakespeare as the Bard intended. Or, sayith the company of game young New York University students who directed, crewed, and acted in this production of Twelfth Night: Shakespeare “under the sun and in front of a loud, standing and possibly distracted audience.”

To be fair, loud and distracted as we were, most of us were sitting. Paul and I sat on a bench next to a man who proudly, and loudly, pronounced the scene the “Real New York.” Cultural stuff like this only happened in Manhattan. Manhattan was the Greatest City in the World.

“We live in Brooklyn,” I said. “Brooklyn has–”

Nothing like Manhattan, he scoffed. There is Nowhere Like Manhattan.

“You live in Manhattan?” I asked.

No, he lived in Vero Beach, Florida. It was the Best of All Possible Worlds; a True Jewel–

At that point, I fled to the pavement to sit among the students and other riff-raff.

The company was excellent–fine enough to hold us willingly captive for two hours on the grubby, unforgiving cement. Nobody threw rotten fruit at the stage, as we might have in the days of Shakespeare’s traveling troupe. The cast, to a man–and woman (which was not as the Bard had intended)–delivered their lines crisply and well. The timing was spot-on, the slapstick clever.

It was a bare-bones production: the most elaborate set piece was a rudimentary curtained box, the makeshift holding tank in which the wretched Malvolio was temporarily confined as a crazy. I suspect it doubled as a transport for costumes and props. The only scenery was a length of cloth held by two cast members, a half-dead tree branch, and the monument to early industrial engineer Alexander Holley, whose bust pointedly ignored the spectacle beneath his plinth.

The company had clearly put a lot of work into the production. They also had fun with it, right down to the music they sang at the beginning and during the brief intermission–a selection that featured Lady Ga-ga, the Beatles, and Frankie Valli’s Walk Like a Man, a wink at the gender-bending plot.

Their enthusiasm charmed us, their motley audience, even if it didn’t soothe the savage dachshund (Turns out, it was a dachshund parade–a Murder of dachshunds? An Unkindness of dachshunds? A Pride? A Gaggle? A Bark, perhaps?–that began and ended at the Square’s central fountain. This is indeed the Greatest City in the World…).

Shakespeare in the Square is the brainchild of two students in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Rose Bochner and Dan Hasse, both freshmen, planted their first cast of hardy souls in the Square this February to stage Julius Caesar. Yes, February: If you visit the project’s website,, you’ll find photos of audience members in down jackets and wool scarves. You’ll also find a very cool trailer for the show: multiple murders set to a cast member’s rendition of the Stones’ Under My Thumb.

This company of young thespians do their crazy thing for love of the art and the material, and for the experience. Not for money (the performance is free); not even, according to a cast member, for class credit.

That, in these dubious times, is something worth barking about.