There’s still a little summer left, so if you’re in the area, there’s still time, but not much time, for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, which finishes up on September 4th.
First of all, the setting couldn’t be lovelier. The performances are at Boscobel, a gorgeous estate in Garrison, New York, overlooking the Hudson River, about a mile south of the village of Cold Spring. It’s a historic house museum, the house having been built in the early 19th century by States Dyckman (of the same Dyckman family who owned the Dyckman Farmhouse in upper Manhattan). The museum is open every day (except Tuesdays) from 10:00 to 4:00, so if you’d like to get there ahead of time and explore, you can buy a combination ticket by calling during business hours: 845.265.9575. Or, save your museum-going for another day, buy a ticket to a performance, and show up no more than two hours before show time to enjoy the grounds.
Many people bring blankets and picnic baskets full of treats to have a relaxing meal outdoors. The HVSF Café will even make a picnic basket up for you to pick up there, if you reserve ahead of time. For those of us who don’t plan quite so far ahead, there are sandwiches and pastries and drinks available for purchase when you arrive, a few indoor seats, and plenty of benches outdoors.
Then, on to the show. They do Shakespeare, of course (this year’s offerings are Twelfth Night and Love’s Labour’s Lost) and this season they introduced, for the first time, two world premieres, The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson, and Pride and Prejudice by Kate Hamill. The General from America by Richard Nelson rounds out the set. No matter which performance you attend, you’ll be seeing largely the same cast, as the company acts in repertory. Fortunately, they are an extremely talented collection of actors.
I saw Pride and Prejudice, largely because I admire Kate Hamill (the playwright for the off-Broadway Sense and Sensibility produced by Bedlam last year, and the originator then of the role of Marianne) and was interested to see how she would do as Lizzy. I’m pleased to say she made a fine Elizabeth Bennet, and struck just the right notes, clever and witty, but with a vulnerable and kind heart. Jason O’Connell was another stand out as Mr. Darcy (I’d seen him play both Edward and Robert Ferrars before). He’s not a heartthrob, but that actually works quite well…Mr. Darcy (various movie versions notwithstanding) isn’t meant to be dashing. O’Connell reminds me a bit of a young Oliver Platt. And what he does, and does well, is show how the snobby, stand-offish, prideful man softens, changes, and grows. (It likely doesn’t hurt that Ms. Hamill and Mr. O’Connell are romantically linked in real life.)
This isn’t Pride and Prejudice for the Austen purists. The Bennet sisters are reduced to four, Kitty having been excised from the script. Much of what is circumscribed and subtle in the novel is shouted in this play. Although I enjoyed seeing Chris Thorn play Charlotte Lucas (and Mr. Bennet), the Charlotte of the novel was never nearly so direct or outspoken about the compromises in her life. Slapstick and broad humor abound in this production. Mr. Collins shouts through a megaphone. Miss De Bourgh hides behind a veil and makes strange whining noises. John Tufts as Bingley is an almost literal puppy dog (and his energy reminds me a bit of Jim Carrey in his younger days), and he doubles as Mary by wearing a dress and a scowl. The actors carry off all of this silliness with aplomb. Bells are constantly ringing and sometimes everyone is talking at once. “Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere.” [Oh, sorry…wrong play!]
No matter. Have a glass of wine, look at the wide open space, the most beautiful backdrop possible in a theater, and give yourself over to the madcap story. On a clear night, under a tent, with the rest of the happy audience, we witnessed the romantic ending and bade our farewells to Lizzy, Darcy, and the rest of them, and the cast took their bows to Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke.”
There’s no hotel right in Garrison, but you can stay across the river at West Point, or in one of the other towns up or town the Hudson, or head to New York City (in the evening it should only be about two hours’ drive). Make sure not to leave without taking a little of the midsummer night’s magic home with you, though.
Lead-In Image (Boscobel) Courtesy of James Kirkikis / Shutterstock.com
ABOUT LAURA LaVELLE
Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.
Laura can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org