NEW YORK (AP) — A light rain was falling earlier this month over New York as the debut performance was getting under way of a production of "All's Well That End's Well" as part of summer's Shakespeare in the Park series.
"I kept thinking, 'They're going to cancel. They're going to cancel,'" recalls Annie Parisse.
They didn't. So she and her fellow actors spent the next three hours jumping puddles and enduring a soaking as they gamely performed in the uncovered Delacorte Theater.
Parisse, making her debut in the park, had just learned a key lesson: A squall must blow through Central Park to derail one of the Public Theater's most beloved annual shows.
She was also taught that night about how passionate visitors are to Shakespeare in the Park. While many of the crowd left as the rain intensified, many did not, huddling for warmth and cowering from the drops.
"I was like, 'That's very special,'" she says. "I thought, 'Well, after intermission, it's going to be half the people.' But I was amazed."
Parisse, who played assistant district attorney Alexandra Borgia from 2005-2006 on NBC's "Law & Order," has been soaking up the experience of her first outdoor Shakespeare. She's been getting pointers from her co-star, Tony Award-winner Tonya Pinkins, who is making her second appearance.
Pinkins, who was in a 1994 Shakespeare in the Park production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor," says it thankfully never rained that summer, but she has memories of other annoyances.
"Bugs in my nose — that's kind of what I remember," she says, laughing.
Both women are tackling two Shakespeare plays at once. Besides "All's Well," which is being directed by Daniel Sullivan, Parisse and Pinkins have roles in "Measure for Measure," directed by David Esbjornson.
The two, who share a dressing room, have a lot in common: Both have appeared in "Law & Order" and the soap opera "As the World Turns," though never together. Now they get to do Shakespeare in the Park.
"If you're going to work in New York, you're going to have to have done those jobs," says Pinkins.
"That's a good trifecta," agrees Parisse.
Scholars call the two Shakespeare works "problem plays" since they mix so much tragedy with the comedy. Both also have strong female characters, who scheme and outwit men to get what they want — something that attracted both actresses.
"The character that carries both of these plays is a woman," says Parisse. "The women in both of these plays are the actors, they're the people who initiate the action."
Pinkins agrees: "They get what they want."
In "All's Well That End's Well," which opens Saturday, Parisse plays Helena, a woman hopelessly in love with a nobleman she pursues and eventually tricks into marriage. In "Measure for Measure," which opens June 30, she plays Mariana, who also uses trickery to save a life. Pinkins plays the Countess of Rousillion in "All's Well That End's Well," and Mistress Overdone in "Measure for Measure," a brothel owner.
Parisse, who had never seen either play before this summer, says both are not easily categorized. There's humor, but also sex used as a tool and plenty of scheming to increase one's position in society.
"They are funny but really messed up stuff happens in both of them. And these women cause messed up things to happen," she says. "I think there's an impulse to want to name things. And these plays kind of defy that, I think."
Pinkins, who played the title role in "Caroline, or Change" and won a Tony in "Jelly's Last Jam," and Parisse, whose film credits include "Monster-in-Law," ''National Treasure" and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" are also learning the rigors of repertory.
"I'm always amazed that I still know my lines when we come back to the other play," says Parisse. "I feel like once it's in your body, it's really in there in a totally different way than contemporary dialogue is."
Then there's the other stuff that can threaten one's concentration — the mosquitoes, the helicopters overhead, the cold weather and the raccoons. The raccoons? Pinkins pulls out her smart phone and shows a photo of one of the animals snapped near the stage one day.
"It's their house," she says.
The two actresses have also gotten an important tip about how producers of the Central Park series view inclement weather.
"Their definition of a light rain...," Parisse says.
"... is very different than mine," Pinkins answers, laughing.