An extraordinary production of Macbeth is playing out this summer under the big tent at the Boscobel estate overlooking the Hudson River. Director Lee Sunday Evans has elected to have the entire cast portrayed by three women, in this case, the talented Maria-Christina Oliveras, Nance Williamson, and Stacey Yen. As the three approach center stage, with menace in their eyes, they are the three witches ready to give Macbeth and his comrade Banquo the prediction that sets off the action.
Then, each one remarkably melds into another character, seamlessly, and with enough of a clue so the audience can follow along. Having three performers play a roster of characters could be off-putting, but in this case, Evans is playing on the notion that Shakespeare’s plays generally have the women stand by the sidelines and don’t have very much do. As each character comes to life, we are seeing the play in a new light, with the women telling the story, and with a feverish gusto that leaves the audience speechless; you could have heard a pin drop on the dirt floor.
In the director’s note, Evans writes, “Macbeth is not a play about legality, but takes us deep into the morass of psychology and desire that can drive individuals to do unconscionable things in the pursuit of power.” Each actor has the opportunity to show raw emotion at the unfolding of the action, from murder to slaughter and to madness. When Yen, as Malcom’s wife comes upon her dead child, her scream of “MURDER” shakes the rafters. The clever use of sound effects and the chanting by the ladies create an eeriness to the murderous plots and brings Shakespeare’s most famous play chillingly alive.
Macbeth is one of three rotating plays at the 2016 Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, now celebrating its 30th anniversary. As You Like It and Measure for Measure are also on the schedule, and each one has been directed with a new flair, and presented with a fresh point of view. This year, as the world celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, come celebrate the man considered the “greatest playwright in the English language.” After seeing Macbeth, you will be convinced.
Boscobel is located about 90 minutes north of New York City, in Putnam County. Accessible via Metro North with shuttle service is available at Cold Spring. The estate is a popular site for picnickers who come for the day, pack a blanket, and watch the Hudson River go by. The season continues until Labor Day. For ticket information, special performances, and dining ideas, visit the website for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.
Photographs by T. Charles Erickson
There’s always excitement in the air before one of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival plays take the stage. Every director over the course of the festival’s 30 years, has made a little tweak here, a twist there, changed the time period, or inserted a trendy bit of dialogue to remind the audience that though it’s been hundreds of years since these words have been written, humans are still pretty much the same. We’re looking for love, our place in the world; some seek vengeance, others seek peace. It’s just a hoot wondering what will appear out of the darkness of Boscobel’s back yard, or down the bleacher steps into the light and onto the dirt floor. Granted, it takes a few minutes for the ear to adjust to the dialogue, but once on board, the show moves along, and there’s always someone to root for, and someone to hiss at, with others being downright silly. Now that’s entertainment.
Measure for Measure
In Measure for Measure, directed by Davis McCallum, we have a story about the temptations of power, but also the power of forgiveness. The Duke decides to run off to see if his people will fall into unlawfulness, and leaves his dukedom in the hands of, Angelo, an inferior officer. Angelo resurrects an ancient law that prohibits premarital sex, and of course, poor Claudio has just done the deed with his fiancee’ and is now sentenced to death. Claudio’s sister, soon to be Sister Isabella, appeals for his brother’s life, to which Angelo proposes a late-night tryst in exchange. (Gasp!)
The title, Measure for Measure, refers to the dispensing of justice by the Duke, who upon his return sees the chaos his absence has caused; we are reminded that our actions can have unanticipated consequences, and that situations can turn dire very fast. Throughout the three-hour performance, there’s silliness by the servant, Pompey, and the cool, hip Lucio, the smooth talking braggart who plays each side.
As You Like It
As You Like It, with Gaye Taylor Upchurch as director, deals with belonging, our quest for love, and the things we do to obtain it. Our two lovers meet, and Orlando and Rosalind are dumbstruck. When Rosalind is banished, she retreats into the forest, dressed as a man for safety. Orlando, too, has left the town to seek a new life out of his older brother’s shadow. As they meet up in the forest, Rosalind sees the love Orlando has for her, but still keeps her identity a secret so as to understand love from a man’s point of view. Along the way, we meet up with other banished souls who’ve formed their own society, and burst into the occasional folk song and do some fancy line dancing. Then, a new character appears out of the dark, and who is it but Elvis himself, arriving just in time to perform a wedding. Or not. (See, I told you the director does a little tweaking here and there.)
Excellent performances by the entire cast, who handle Shakespeare’s heavy and tongue-twisty dialogue heroically. That they can do this every night for the entire summer – rotating three plays including Macbeth — is a remarkable feat in itself. So, get thee to Boscobel and catch these extraordinary performances by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival troupe, and you’ll know why it’s celebrating its 30th season.
Photos by T. Charles Erickson Photography
The Boscobel Estate is located on the banks of the Hudson River and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding area. Located just 60 minutes north of New York City, it’s accessible by car or train. Visit hvshakespeare.org for ticket information, directions, and dining ideas. The season runs until September 5, 2016.