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.
STUPID FU**KING BIRD is billed as being “sort of” adapted from Chekhov’s The Seagull. “Sort of” is right. If unfamiliar with the original, there’s a synopsis in the program. You can skip it, but there’s amusement in seeing how, in playwright Aaron Posner’s inventive, updated version, the inmates take over the asylum. Don’t take that literally. Though the histrionic Conrad Akardina is, from the start, on the brink of cracking, and who knows into what fresh hell his actress girlfriend Nina finally travels, these are ostensibly regular folks. Well, not regular – they’re artists.
“The play will begin when someone says “Stupid Fucking bird!” declares Conrad (Christopher Sears) who ostensibly authored what we’re about to see. Several audience members respond. (We’re regularly questioned and addressed.) His cast comes through the single door in a stage-long wall that says STUPID FU**KING BIRD. Everyone wears casual contemporary clothing. There are folding chairs.
We’re gathered to see the premiere of a site specific performance event called “Here We Are,” which Conrad takes VERY seriously. Beautiful Nina (Marianna McClellan), for whom he bears tortured love, will act. The young woman says she loves Conrad but there’s no deep attraction.
In attendance are: Mash (Joey Parsons), a ukulele toting nihilist besotted with Conrad; sweet Charlie Brownish Dev (Joe Paulik), Conrad’s best friend, who’s “ridiculously” in love with Mash; the playwright’s imperious actress mother, Emma (Bianca Amato); her famous partner, the writer Doyle Trigorin (Erik Lochtefeld); and her frustrated doctor-brother, Eugene Sorn (Dan Daily). It’s a fevered caucus race that never arrives, rather like Alice in Wonderland.
Marianna McClennan and Christopher Sears
The event=monologue is kind of Dadaist. “This is real,” Nina intones holding up a paper that says REAL. Then, “This is true,” holding up one that says TRUE. (There’s more.) Emma sarcastically heckles, insisting the play is an attack on her (as, she feels, is everything). Conrad stops the show and runs off wounded. Mash is upset, Dev and Eugene rather liked the piece, Emma is incredulous at her son’s oversensitivity, Doyle applies The 100 Years Test: Will anyone care in 100 years?
Nina has had a mad crush on Doyle (through his stories) since she was 12. To say sparks fly between the middle aged, sensitive-chick magnet and this hyper romantic, unblushingly forward young woman, would be minimizing everything that follows. (The actors emanate heat.)
Joey Parsons and Joe Paulik
Muddled, Conrad thinks a primal gesture will appeal to Nina and shoots a seagull she admired, laying it bloodily at her feet. It doesn’t work. You probably remember the young man then raises the gun to himself. “The only thing worse than trying to kill yourself and failing, is having to talk to your mom about it.”
There’s a terrific, lucid rant about the need for new play writing forms, a tirade describing the deplorable state of the world which concludes: all we really care about is having someone to snuggle up to at night, and one about the difference between the act of creating and fame – including the best use of breasts in a metaphor I’ve ever heard – that might constructively be discussed in philosophy 101.
In one left field parenthesis, each character has sex with him/herself and a chair. Thespians wrestle to the ground and chase one another around the theater for possession of a microphone to proclaim what they want. Conrad sincerely asks the audience for advice – answers are inadvertently priceless. Eugene confesses his fatalistic yearning to an empty kitchen. Nina and Emma strip to the waist. (Spoiler alert: one gets fervently laid.) Mash sings fraught, Nellie McKay-like uke songs. Almost everyone lets go with screaming arguments, solitary tantrums, and/or abject pleading.
Marianna McClennan and Erik Lochtefeld
Then…Mash and Dev evolve unexpectedly. Nina chases her dream coming up lost and possibly mad. Emma attacks Doyle with an eloquent, passionate, vicious speech on which she risks everything. Conrad has a play produced – this one! And, well, you probably know what happens to him. The playwright even tells us before we go.
STUPID FU**KING BIRD straddles genres like a hotheaded bull rider. It takes a little time to kick in, time during which you may wonder to what self indulgent, intractable turmoil you’ve bought tickets. At some insidious point, however, there’s a gotcha! moment and you start having a very good time. It could be edited, but take the ride. Much of this sprawling brouhaha is smart, poignant, or astringently funny. Playwright Aaron Posner’s got his mojo on.
Christopher Sears and Bianca Amato
Direction by Davis McCallum is inspired.
As Conrad, Christopher Sears’s manic energy is unremitting. Pain is visceral. He inhabits the role. Marianna McClellan (Nina) exudes sensuality and innocence. She’s catnip. Bianca Amato (Emma) is a Lucretia Borgia character. The sharpness of her speeches could draw blood. Erik Lochtefeld (Doyle) is completely believable in his habitual acceptance of adulation. What passes between him and Nina is palpable.
Sandra Goldmark’s Scenic Design morphs from graphic invective to a platformed kitchen, never losing sight of the theater’s skeleton and all it’s what’s-real implications.
Dan Daily, Joey Parsons, Christopher Sears, Bianca Amato, Erik Lochtefeld, and Marianna McClellan
Photos by Russ Roland
Opening: The Company
STUPID FU**KING BIRD “sort of” adapted from Chekhov’s The Seagull
By Aaron Posner
Directed by Davis McCallum
The Pearl Theatre Company
555 West 42nd Street
Through May 8, 2016