To be or not to be a Shakespearean actor, that was the question. The man who was about to read from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” explained his motivation this way: “I’m going to be unemployed in 453 days and out interviewing for new jobs.”
Then Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proceeded to deliver a passage from the comedy that Shakespeare is thought to have written when he was in his mid-30s. Like Mandy Patinkin and Vanessa Redgrave, who followed the mayor in delivering bits of Shakespeare during a ceremony at the Public Theater on Thursday, Mr. Bloomberg read his lines.
The mayor, who said later that it was his debut in Shakespeare, popped the “p” in the word “accompany.” Still, he got a standing ovation — but most of the audience was standing anyway, and had been for 15 or 20 minutes, because the ceremony took place in the lobby of the Public, not a place with rows and rows of seats. These were the mayor’s lines, from Act V, Scene 1:
Joy, gentle friends! Joy and fresh days of love
Accompany your hearts!
The ceremony celebrated the completion of a $40 million renovation of the Public’s 1850s Renaissance Revival building, in the East Village. It has new granite stairs and a new canopy outside, along with reopened archways inside (they had been sealed off sometime in the past) and a new snack bar in the center of the lobby. It was dispensing coffee and juice as people mingled before the speeches — and the Shakespeare readings.
The cast was varied, to say the least. Mr. Patinkin read from “The Tempest” and added a mention of Joseph Papp, who founded the Public. Mr. Papp’s widow, Gail, read three lines from “Coriolanus.” The architect James S. Polshek, who was the design counsel on the renovation, read four lines from “Henry IV” that sounded like a job description, for they mentioned surveying a plot, drawing a model and figuring the cost when, as Shakespeare put it, “we mean to build.” Miss Redgrave read from “As You Like It,” while the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, read from “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
Oskar Eustis, the Public’s artistic director, said the readings were a “kind of a peculiar benediction” after the speeches, which included one by Luis A. Urbinas, the president of the Ford Foundation, which gave $2 million for the renovation and for which the new lobby was named.
Mr. Urbinas said he had discovered the Public as a teenager from the South Bronx in the 1970s when he and a friend went to a free performance of “Macbeth.” They were approached, Mr. Urbinas recalled, by “what seemed to our high school eyes this ancient man — he was 50. He explained we were way too early, but we could hang around.” The man turned out to be Mr. Papp, he said.
For his part, Mr. Bloomberg said he had considered recreating “some of the theater’s greatest moments.”
“For example, I could perform that showstopper from the Public’s beloved ‘The Pirates of Penzance,’ my favorite Gilbert and Sullivan,” he said, “and I would call it, ‘I am the model of the modern mayor general.’”
The crowd laughed, perhaps a little uneasily, as if the next line might be a real groaner, and the mayor said, “It’s not easy to write this stuff, folks, you know?”
He suggested changing one of the most famous songs in “The Threepenny Opera” to “Mike the Knife.”
“Or maybe I could revive the performance I gave at a charity event a year or so ago with the cast of ‘Hair,’” he said. “Thankfully, there was no nude scene there.” A moment later, he said, “On the advice of our corporation counsel, Michael Cardozo, who doubles as a board member of the Public, I won’t do it today, either.” (Clothed cast members from the Public’s 2008 revival of “Hair’’ later performed “Let the Sun Shine In.”)
Then, without so much as a spotlight or a snappy song like “One” from “A Chorus Line,” Mr. Eustis introduced what he called the mayor’s “audition for his new job, which I promise I will take very seriously.”
Afterward, Mr. Eustis said, “There is no question I am going to give him a callback.” He also promised to give the mayor “a few adjustments, because that’s how we figure out what his range is.”
“I’m actually sort of serious,” Mr. Eustis said.