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Sonnets and Couplets: Shakespeare in the Park is back at the Delacorte Theater

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For many New Yorkers, barbecues and Mister Softee don't say summer the way that Shakespearian prose does. Starting Monday, free tickets to the annual city tradition of Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater, which is produced by The Public Theater, will be up for grabs. Previews for "Measure for Measure" kick off on Monday and "All's Well That Ends Well" starts on Saturday. The summer's repertory shows, which run through July 30, mark the 57th year of Shakespeare in the Park.

Since this year does not have the Hollywood appeal of years past -- Al Pacino, who starred in last year's "Merchant of Venice" will not be taking the Delacorte stage this year -- the long lines for tickets may be easier to manage. The plays, which will be directed David Esbjornson and Daniel Sullivan, are also lesser known.

"The challenge in this case is how to make these difficult plays accessible and interesting," said Time Out New York theater critic Adam Feldman. "And they're also not that well-known. People come into Shakespeare a lot of the time already knowing it, and it makes it easier for them to follow the plot and the language. These are not plays that are as familiar to most audiences."

For better or for worse, the popularity of Shakespeare in the Park is contagious. Although the Public occasionally presents other classics at the Delacorte Theater, like "Mother Courage and her Children" in 2006 with Meryl Streep, countless small theater companies around the city ride the coattails of the popularity of Shakespeare in the Park each summer by offering up their own productions. 

"Shakespeare is like Pac-Man," said New York Post theater critic Elisabeth Vincentelli. "It's eating up everything around it."

Tonya Pinkins, who plays Mistress Overdone and Countess in "All's Well That Ends Well" and "Measure for Measure," said she again expected long lines to get into the Delacorte this year.

"There's clearly a thirst for Shakespeare and maybe everybody will get their thirst quenched this summer because there's such a plethora of choices," Pinkins said.

Both Feldman and Vincentelli suggested that Shakespeare lovers try to see the shows as early in the run as possible when the free ticket lines at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park are manageable. Tickets are also available online and for pick up in the five boroughs on select days. The cast of the two plays includes John Cullum, Kristen Connolly, along with David Manis and Tonya Pinkins (pictured below).

David Manis and Tonya Pinkins in "All's Well That Ends Well"

Updated 2:30 P.M.