And it’s right in the Hudson Valley, a delightful 90 minute drive, or train ride up north to Garrison, where Northern Westchester meets Putnam County. For 26 years, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) players have been taking on the words of Shakespeare, adding their sometimes bizarre, sometimes deeply moving, but always their own unique twist to his works. They’ve taken the famous plays, and the not so famous, the ones that made it into movies, and the ones that you didn’t even know about; nothing is out of bounds.
Romeo and Juliet has been made and remade, on the stage and in the movies. We all know the story, but in the hands of newcomers Carl Howell (in his second season) and Angela Janas (her first season), the dialogue and performances are vigorous and dynamic. Perhaps it’s the plainness of the stage (bare, dirt floor), or the bohemian wardrobe, or that the supporting players are just as powerful as the leads. But I left more moved than I’d ever been, and while I read this in high school English, dissecting every passage with a terrific English teacher, there were aspects and nuances I hadn’t realized before.
A few of the outstanding performances include Drew Lewis’ Benvolio, a friend of Romeo’s, who has an impassioned speech in the second act, and in anguish, has to explain why Paris and Romeo lie dead. The character of Juliet’s nurse, played by Denise Cormier is, hands down, one for the books. All I’m going to say is two words: Fran Drescher. On a more serious note, Stephen Paul Johnson, in his 14th season, has a field day in the role of Juliet’s father: lighthearted and silly as he prepares for his daughter’s marriage, terrifying when his command is not obeyed, and mourning his daughter, is heartbreakingly real.
Bits and pieces of wisdom flow through Shakespeare’s plays, sentiments about being true to your heart, and loyalty, and finding the strength to move on from disappointment. This particular night included a rapt audience since it was “family night,” where the players conduct an interactive workshop before the curtain rises, and the seats were filled with families and kids of all ages. It was a remarkable sight when at one point, Romeo, kneeling on the floor, imploring the heavens about the struggles in his heart, sets his sight on a kid in the first row. “What shall I do?” Romeo asks. And to that, the sweet little boy shrugged his shoulders. It’s that kind of production that is going on in one of the prettiest parts of the Hudson Valley. And one that shouldn’t be missed.
The 2012 season of the HVSF includes The 39 Steps, and Love’s Labours Lost, and more “family nights.” Another feature that fans of the HVSF enjoy is the “caught in the act” event where the players take a seat after the show and field questions from the audience. Hobnobbing with the actors after a terrific performance is one of the highlights of any theatre-goer.
Not only does the HVSF provide such high quality theatre, but it also offers programs to inspire, train and prepare students, teachers and those who are just starting out in their acting career. Workshops, residency programs, and their acting apprenticeship programs make this organization one that not only gives theatregoers a great show, but it also gives back.
For information on the rest of the HVSF season at the Boscobel estate in Garrison or their special programs, including fall and winter offerings, visit the website.
Read MJ’s review of The 39 Steps.
Romeo and Juliet
Directed by Christopher Edwards
Photos by William Marsh
1. Angela Janas (Juliet); Carl Howell (Romeo)
2. Carl Howell (Romeo); Angela Janas (Juliet)
3. Daniel Morgan Shelley (Mercutio); Carl Howell (Romeo)
4. Daniel Morgan Shelly (Mercutio), Charlie Francis Murphy (Tybalt)