The long-haired actor entered the dirt-floor stage wearing a Harley Davidson jacket, riding an invisible motorcycle, and prepared to win the heart of a shrew of a lady, named Katherina. She, in turn, was the one burning her bra, and chasing the man of her dreams with a chain saw. Yes, this is Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew like you’ve never seen it. I mean, never! It’s an astonishing production of the 400 year old play, transformed and pushed into the 1960’s. Wildly designed costumes, a 1960’s soundtrack, and an expert collection of actors, all of which brought new life into what is really, a simple and funny story about arranged marriages, identity-switching, and the eternal “battle of the sexes.”
I never thought I would say this, but you don’t have to be in a Broadway theatre in New York City to experience a Broadway-quality show. Yes, I’m sorry Neil Simon Theatre, regrets to the Minskoff, and I apologize 42nd Street, but the actors were pros, the dialogue clear, and their level of energy unstoppable. Though held under a tent, in balmy and humid weather, the performances were robust and charged. The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival has been putting on these productions since 1987, and since their humble beginnings as a fundraiser for a local historic site, they have been received with rave reviews and enthusiasm from newspapers like The Journal News (“Buy your tickets, pack a picnic and prepare to be dazzled.”) to The New York Times’ review of the 2009 production of Pericles (“The cast’s energy and relish in juggling these characters are contagious.”)
The mission of the Festival is to present these plays “with an economy of style that focuses its energy and resources on script, actors, and audience.” Also, the productions “challenge,” the audience to “take a fresh look at what is essential in Shakespeare’s plays.” It’s not just great PR talk. It’s fact. For this season, director Kurt Rhoads took the essentials of The Taming of the Shrew and put them into the era of the 1960’s. Argyle sweaters, hippie clothing, and big afros, and Herb Alpert and Woody Guthrie tunes make one forget that they’re watching a century’s old creation, one that this writer struggled through in high school, and instead are watching something new and so very interesting. The language, spoken crisp and clean, made sense. Yes, that guy wants to make the older sister his wife, which leaves the younger sister available for marriage. And, yes, it makes sense that the Prince changes identities with his servant to win her heart. Yes, the terminology of the day is still there. We hear “wench,” and “thou” but we got it. Like a Pentecost, it was understood.
The grounds of Boscobel are ideal for the production: wooded and mountainous views. Some theatre-goers even make a day out of it and either bring or purchase a picnic lunch to enjoy before the performance. The one-of-a-kind view from the lawn fronting the Boscobel mansion, of the Hudson River and surrounding vistas create a magical day out. If you don’t want to drive, take Metro North right to Cold Springs, a quaint Hudson River town that is fun to wander through, and then catch the “Bard Bus” that will deliver you right to Boscobel’s front door.
The season runs through September 5 with the productions of Troilus & Cressida, which the brochure describes as the “biting tale of war, love and jealousy,” and The Bomb-itty of Errors, which, and I have to really quote here, “an ad-rap-tation of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors.” This I gotta see!
Kudos go out to the truly talented actors, too numerous to name for this space, but who worked together with such freshness and joy for the acting profession that it reminds one why the art form was created in the first place.
Tickets are a very “easy on the pocketbook” price of between $29 and $47. Picnic meals can be pre-ordered and run between $9 and $22. Contact the box office at 845-265-9575 for information on tickets, family nights, wine and cheese tastings, and train/Bard Bus schedule. Or log on to www.hvshakespeare.org