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Shakespeare Takes Over Fenway Park

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In sports-meets-arts news: Shakespeare is being performed Friday night at Fenway Park for the first time.

Sure, the Red Sox have entertained fans for years with with tragedy, comedy and farce, but this medley of dramatic works marks a debut for the Bard at any major league ballpark.

During a break in rehearsal, Steven Maler, co-founding director of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, said the idea was born during a conversation between Mayor Thomas Menino and Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino.

"It was about wanting more 'ahht in the pahhk,'" Maler recounted, conjuring his best impression of Menino's signature accent. "And I think what he meant is art at Fenway Park."

The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company has been performing for free on the Boston Common each summer for the past 20 years. Maler admits pulling off any season is a logistical gauntlet, but he said it's nothing compared to the wrangling he's done to get top-tier, New York and Hollywood actors in for the one-night-only Fenway show.

Many of the performers honed their chops in Boston before going on to find careers with film and television shows like "Glee" (Mike O'Malley), "Captain America" (Neal McDonough), "Gossip Girl" (Zuzanna Szadkowski) and "House of Cards" (Maryann Plunkett). They'll join hometown actors on a stage constructed above the Red Sox dugout.

When asked about the connection between the Bard and baseball, Maler explained how the pairing fulfills his company's two-decade-long mission to make Shakespeare accessible to everyone.

"For me, Shakespeare is such a profoundly populist writer," Maler said. "When he was writing his plays he was writing for everyone. Fenway is such hallowed ground here in Boston and it really is the people's park."

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company donated a significant number of tickets to partnering educational nonprofits like the Boys and Girls Clubs. It also offered 2,000 free tickets to the public, which disappeared in three hours.

The audience will fill about 5,000 of the park's 37,000 seats.

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.