OUR TOWN Tickets Now Available!

“Let’s really look at one another!”

Today’s the day! FREE tickets* to HVSF’s 30th Anniversary, hyper-local production of Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN are now available. Secure your seats by clicking on one of the dates below, or by calling (845) 265-9575 for the September 2/4/5 performances or (914) 739-0039 for the September 3 performance at Paramount.





“Choose the least important day of your life. It will be important enough.”

Can’t commit to a date now? On Saturday, August 27 we’ll host a pop-up Box Office in four (4) locations throughout the Hudson Valley! Be the first in line in Newburgh, Beacon, Cold Spring, or Peekskill to score ticket vouchers for the show of your choosing on a first-come, first-served basis. Mark your calendar, details to follow!


HVSF Welcomes Drama Desk and Drama League Award Nominee Julia Coffey!

ActingCo_2016_CoffeyCoffey will take over the roles of Rosalind in AS YOU LIKE IT and Mariana/Mistress Overdone in MEASURE FOR MEASURE.

Artistic Director Davis McCallum has announced that Drama League and Drama Desk Award nominee Julia Coffey will join the company this week, first appearing in AS YOU LIKE IT on Sunday, July 31.

Coffey was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her performance as Mrs. Janus in Mint Theater Company’s production of London Wall, directed by McCallum. She received a Drama League nomination for her performance of Mrs. Holroyd in The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd, also at the Mint.

Though this will be Coffey’s debut at HVSF, she is no stranger to the character of Rosalind! This will be her third production of AS YOU LIKE IT following those at Santa Cruz Shakespeare, and Baltimore’s Center Stage. Of her performance in Santa Cruz, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Julia Coffey is an ever-more delightful Rosalind, infectiously confused, then irresistibly slipping more deeply in love. Her banter with Celia sets the play’s tone, and her cross-dressed wooing of Orlando leavens affecting romance with sharp comic second thoughts.” Among her other New York credits are The Trip To Bountiful at Signature Theater and Perfect Arrangements at Primary Stages. Most recently, Coffey appeared as Hedda in Studio Theatre’s production of Hedda Gabler. Other reginal credits include: Arcadia (Lady Croom) at A.C.T., Tales from Hollywood (Helen) at the Guthrie Theater, The Merchant of Venice (Portia) at Shakespeare Theatre, Importance of Being Earnest (Gwendolyn) at PlayMakers Rep, Romeo and Juliet (Juliet) at Chicago Shakespeare, and Macbeth (Lady Macbeth) at A Noise Within.

Jessica Love, currently playing Rosalind in AS YOU LIKE IT and Mariana and Mistress Overdone in MEASURE FOR MEASURE, will depart from HVSF’s acting company on August 1 to take up a role in the world premiere of Aubergine by Julio Cho at Playwrights Horizons.

Of the transition, McCallum says, “Julia is one of the most gifted actors I know, and I loved working with her on London Wall, so her name immediately came to mind when this vacancy became known. We look forward to welcoming Julia to the HVSF family, and can’t wait to share her work with our audiences at the Tent. It was a pleasure having Jessica Love with us this season, and we wish her well at Playwrights Horizons.”


AS YOU LIKE IT and MEASURE FOR MEASURE run in repertory with MACBETH through August 28, 2016.

The Hubble-Bubble Ruckus of SO PLEASE YOU

In celebration of Shakespeare’s 400 year legacy, HVSF’s family-friendly comedy SO PLEASE YOU tells the story of a servant named Denis who appears only once in Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT, to announce that, “so please you,” there is a wrestler at the door! This tragical-comical, comical-tragical tale turns the story of Denis inside out, shaking out all the funny stuff between its ears for a rollicking, clownish romp alongside one of Shakespeare’s (almost) silent heroes. Featuring a mosaic of Shakespearean history and language, SO PLEASE YOU offers something for everyone to honor this momentous legacy year.

SO PLEASE YOU dreamer and director Zachary Fine offered up the following to introduce the show. Will you join him under the tent?

Originally published May 4, 2016. SO PLEASE YOU runs August 15 – August 29, 2016.

160710_Img_ZackNEW2Hello! Hi. Hola. HELLO!

Would you do me a favor? You may think I’m crazy, but indulge me for a second. Would you mind just whispering back at me, “Hello”?

Go ahead, try it. Whisper it softly. Wait! First, just look look around and make sure nobody sees you talking to your program.

Did you check? Double check? Now, try it. Pleeeeeaaaaase. Just whisper “Hello.”

YES! Thank you. If you didn’t do it, you can still go back and try it.

So, how’s it going? …Come on, you can do it. You can tell me. You can even bring me closer to your face and hide the fact that you are talking to me, but please just give it a try. Trust me, it’s gonna feel good once you do it.

So, how’s it going?

Really? I hear you. I get it.

So, next question: What did you have for breakfast?

160712_FB_GIF_SoPleaseYouIf you are still reading this and not whispering back at me, you just might be missing out on all the fun. This would be so boring to read if you didn’t play along. Also, I’m not going to write anything about what you are about to see (since I have no clue; we haven’t made it yet).

We’ve come this far. YOU CAN DO IT! Trust me.

So, what did you have for breakfast?

Oh, that sounds scrumptious. I had some toast and scrambled eggs with a little bit of cheddar. It was delicious. And coffee… I think I mentioned coffee. Oh, how I love coffee on a cold May morning! …May?!

Yeah, it’s May 4th, right? No it’s not, it’s today, you say. Yeah, I know, it’s today. No, silly, my today, not your today.

Well, what’s the difference? One’s now and the other is then, you say. But my now is now and your now is then. No, silly. Your now is then and my now is now. You mean your now? Yes, MY NOW! It’s both, right? I think I may have had too much coffee.

Let’s just agree, then, that my now and your now are both now and both then.

As you sit in your now (my then) under the tent, wondering, perhaps even dreaming, about what you are about to see in SO PLEASE YOU, I sit in my now (and your then) drinking my delicious coffee, wondering, perhaps even dreaming, about the same thing. So, are we both together in our dreaming? I think yes.

So, did anyone see you talking to your program? They did?! Did you laugh? Did they laugh? I hope so. I mean, you are having a conversation with a device! Tell the truth, it’s fun to be ridiculous sometimes, right? To let our imaginations run and enter into the world of play?

Welcome to the world of the clown – that part of us that dreams big, that loves to pretend, that loves to play the game, that doesn’t know how it all ends and sometimes like to talk to pieces of paper. The clown embodies for us the rambunctious hope and baffling chaos of our humanity. Ridiculous and sublime, brilliant and idiotic, courageous and terrified – full of curiosity and trepidation, and yet somehow amidst the hubble-bubble ruckus of it all the clown has the terrible/wonderful idea to bring it all out on stage for us to see. The clown dares herself to stand directly in the present moment, the place where the stage and the world meet, and in that place the clown allows us to see, to look, to feel. She stands there for our delight and for our pleasure and for something even greater – the pleasure of our togetherness, the tender magic of our collective imagination.

With that in mind, I invite you into the world of SO PLEASE YOU. What is it about? I have no idea. Remember, it’s May 4th right now, so we haven’t even started rehearsing it yet. But right NOW we are are dreaming together, remember? And our dream is happening NOW. Your now and my then and my now and your then…and we are together, and we are not alone.


SO PLEASE YOU, Conceived and Directed by Zachary Fine, runs August 15 – August 29, 2016.

Now I Was a Different Piece to the Puzzle: An Understudy Reflection by Jessica-Brittany Smith

ActingCo_201620I woke up to two missed calls the morning of June 8th. One was from my best friend who was apologizing for attending Beyonce’s concert without me. (Clearly unacceptable.) And the other was a call from Marci Skolnick (Stage Manager) to inform me that I would need to perform Stacey Yen’s track as her understudy for the second preview of AS YOU LIKE IT.

A surge of exhilaration ran through my body. I called my friend and jokingly scolded her for cheating. As we were wrapping our convo, I told her I had to get ready mentally to go on and then we hung up the phone. Then it sunk in: I’m going on. And I’m terrified.

I was mostly off-book for Stacey’s track at this point and had an idea of her blocking, but the actuality of doing it made me panic. What if I messed up? What if I went up on a line? What if I ran into someone because I messed up her blocking? What if I couldn’t drive the golf cart?! All these questions raced through me at once and I froze. But then, I took a breath. I realized that if something goes wrong it does not make me the worst actor or artist. The show will go on, just as life itself goes on.

I also think a spirit of gratitude helped me in full preparation. An actor and dear company member of mine had to leave for a family emergency and needed support. I suddenly became grateful for the ability to support and carry the spirit of her character in this wonderful story. I became grateful for a company whose main focus is to share the best story they can. I became grateful to be surrounded by artists with such heart and a giving spirit.

(On top of this, seeing the amazing Kimberly Chatterjee take on Stacey Yen’s track in MACBETH like a champ was inspiring in a way that kicked my butt into gear, for sure!)

Repetition is important for me. I ran lines like a crazy person, aiming to repeat them at the least 30 times a day. Especially in a situation like this, muscle memory is very important for me. Once again, the spirit of ensemble was alive and well. Everyone was so willing to help! Almost everyone in the cast at one point came up and offered to run lines, blocking, or answer any questions I had. They were extremely supportive and that made a world of a difference.

When it was time to go on I was still afraid, but more than that fear was the exhilaration, the excitement to play with my fellow ensemble! We do this already, but now I was a different piece to the puzzle and it was fun to change shape!

It was so great to be supported by all of the HVSF company members. I think the fact that both performances were previews [a set of public performances that precede the official opening of a production, allowing the director, designers, and players a chance to refine their work] gave way to an uncertain energy that any show has when it first opens in front of an audience for the first time.

So, old or new, everyone was on their toes.

I will say though, there was a moment when I jumped in on Kurt Rhoads’s line. Now, as an actor of such success and high caliber, he easily could have scolded me, made me feel bad, or stupid. But the first thing he did – the second we walked off stage – was to pull me aside and tell me about a time where something similar happened to him with a very well known actor. It was so comforting, in a moment when I was mortified, to have Kurt comfort me as if to say, “hey, it happens to the best of us.”

The weather faired well for my two performances. It was hot, but there was no crazy wind (as in Kimberly’s spooky MACBETH appearance). I messed up, the show went on, and I pressed on.

Ultimately, this experience taught me a lot; lessons that I am far from mastering but am just now beginning to incorporate into my daily life as an artist: Preparation. The importance of an ensemble. And love of play. HVSF has validated those things I hold dear as an artist and I am excited to see what the rest of this summer brings and teaches me.


AS YOU LIKE IT, Directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch, runs through August 27, 2016.

Giddy and Exhausted and Grateful and Shocked: An Interview with Understudy Kimberly Chatterjee

ActingCo_201615It’s not unusual for an HVSF understudy to make their ascent to the mainstage at some point during a given season… but to embody one-third of a production in a few day’s time? Conservatory Company member Kimberly Chatterjee did just that when she learned she’d be stepping in for Stacey Yen in last weekend’s preview of our three-player MACBETH.

When did you hear the news about needing to step in for Yen? What were you up to?

I found out with the rest of the company on a Wednesday that she’d be leaving, and I knew her AS YOU LIKE IT understudy would be performing a few days later. But it was unclear for a while when Stacey would return. In the meantime, I still had rehearsals for AS YOU LIKE IT and MEASURE FOR MEASURE previews, so I started preparing just in case. I officially found out I’d be stepping in for the June 12 MACBETH on June 10–it was a bit of a whirlwind!

How did you prepare for your appearance?

My fellow understudies and I had seen the dress rehearsal for MACBETH, and earlier in the week we attended the first preview, furiously writing down what blocking we could as we watched [in contemporary theater, the director usually determines blocking during rehearsal, telling actors where they should move for the proper dramatic effect, ensure sight lines for the audience, and work with the lighting design of the scene].

There are a lot of specific formations and stage pictures in the show that delineate scenes and character transformations, and I tried to mark Stacey’s track as specifically as possible by drawing little recreations of the stage in my script and charting her every move. The next day I had a brief rehearsal with Stage Management and Nance Williamson to write down and walk through the staging for the second half of the show, which I had yet to mark in my script. Then I was given a fresh script, redrew my charts more clearly, and reviewed the show in my head as best I could each night.

When I got official word on Friday, I truthfully had a little moment of panic, but then the next morning went straight into rehearsals with Lee Sunday Evans (the show’s director), Nance, and Maria-Christina Oliveras. We had two full days of stepping through the show, making cuts, changing some staging and adding a song, and then it was time to perform!

At the end of the day I had to trust all the reading and memorizing I had done prior to that week, and hope that the work I had put in up to that point would be enough to carry me through the show.

What was it like working alongside longtime company member Nance Williamson and the new-to-HVSF Maria-Christina Oliveras? What sorts of energy did Nance and Maria-Christina bring to the stage? 

It was such a comfort knowing I was working with two consummate professionals who not only knew this show extremely well, but were more than willing to review whatever scenes or blocking I needed extra work on. My biggest worry was getting in their way by making mistakes, but they were so supportive and assured me that if I messed up the blocking or jumped a line that they would survive (which proved true, as I definitely did both at some point!).

They both brought such vibrant, commanding, and grounded energies, that as we walked towards the tent I felt empowered alongside them. I’ve never been on stage for such a sustained amount of time without any exits or breaks, and there was a point about halfway through the show that I doubted whether or not I could maintain my focus and keep myself from panicking. But Nance and Maria-Christina forged ahead and made sure to bring me along with them somehow!

Will your experience with MacB influence your performances in HVSF’s other mainstage shows in any way?

Absolutely! I learned a lot about the amount of vocal volume, resonance and enunciation it takes to be heard in the back row of the audience, and how to engage with all three sides of the tent so everyone feels included in the performance. Playing so many characters in MACBETH allowed me to play with physical and vocal variety to differentiate characters, which will inform how I play Amiens in AS YOU LIKE IT versus Juliet in MEASURE FOR MEASURE.

On a personal level, the support that this artistic community provided for me, and more so for Stacey–who was out-of-state attending to personal matters–was incredibly moving, and all those love songs we sing in AS YOU LIKE IT and MEASURE FOR MEASURE hold a little more meaning for me now.

How did the weather affect your approach?

We knew from rehearsing that day that the night was going to be cold and windy, so the wonderful Robert Serrel [Voice and Speech Coach] helped me warm up my voice and gave me tips to cut through the gusts. I still struggled with volume as the wind blew and buffeted, especially in the more intimate scenes, and the wind was so present that at times I forgot it was there and let my volume drop. But working through the wind also made me commit more fully to my lines and my actions in order to be heard. Just technically speaking, I had to clutch my script tightly to make sure I didn’t lose my page, and therefore my lines and blocking!

I think this show is lucky in that sometimes the wind can be its friend by adding to the magic and spookiness of the story. One moment that was particularly thrilling for me was Lady Macbeth’s speech after reading Macbeth’s letter: “come you spirits/that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here.” I felt the wind pick up behind me as I started speaking and it felt a bit like true witchcraft!


MACBETH, Directed by Lee Sunday Evans, runs June 8 – August 26, 2016.

Sixth Season of HVSF2 Begins August 5th


Joins us for the sixth season of HVSF’s captivating and popular series HVSF2, exploring robust, new plays. HVSF’s acting company members will be featured in readings of contemporary works by some of America’s most celebrated playwrights at The Depot Theatre in Garrison.

August 5th: Whiting Award winner Meg Miroshnik’s, THE DROLL {A Stage-Play about the END of Theatre}, inspired by the theater closures of Puritan England

August 7th: Pulitzer Prize winner, Will Eno’s, GNIT, a modern adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s PEER GYNT

August 12th:Tony Award winner, Richard Nelson’s GENERAL FROM AMERICA , an iconoclastic portrait of Benedict Arnold

August 20th: Critically acclaimed Kate Hamill’s VANITY FAIR, an adaptation of William Thackeray’s masterpiece

To buy tickets  visit the Depot Theatre’s web site at  phillipstowndepottheatre.org or call our box office at 845-265-9575 for more info.  Space is limited so order today.

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival serves up delightful Two Gentlemen of Verona


By Francis Marion Platt

For Almanac Weekly

Published on June 26, 2014

On a fine June evening, with Boscobel’s iconic view of the Hudson Highlands, the river itself and Constitution Marsh as a backdrop, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) officially launched its 2014 season with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. A husband-and-wife team of HVSF regulars, Kurt Rhoads and Nance Williamson, along with a scene-stealing dog named Rex O’Reilly, anchor a game and talented ensemble of younger actors performing under the direction of Eric Tucker.

Written circa 1590, Two Gentlemen is one of William Shakespeare’s earliest plays, if not the very first. So, comparatively speaking, it’s unsophisticated and unpolished, the characters lacking depth and the abrupt turns of plot occasionally unpersuasive to modern ears. It’s by no means complex enough to be classified as one of the Bard’s “problem plays,” but its simplicity is deceptive, and the ending can still perplex us: The hero, Valentine (Ethan Saks), interrupts his duplicitous best friend Proteus (Andy Rindlisbach) as he’s threatening to rape Valentine’s betrothed Silvia (Susannah Millonzi). He then not only promptly forgives Proteus in the name of amity, but actually offers Silvia to him without so much as a by-your-leave to the lady. Proteus’ jilted fiancée Julia (Magan Wiles), who has been following him disguised as a male page, then swoons before being unmasked.

A comedy cobbled together from several Elizabethan sources in which male friendship is extolled as deeper and more enduring than romantic love, the play is a tough sell to contemporary audiences unless rendered with the deftest touch as the message-free, lightweight bauble that it was always meant to be. We’re supposed to walk away from it amused and delighted, not aghast at Proteus’ reprehensible behavior and Valentine’s overindulgence of his betrayal of both their friendship and his oaths of love to Julia. Proteus may read like an early sketch for the despicable Bertram in All’s Well that Ends Well, but he’s meant to be not so much a confirmed cad as a fickle young hothead, like Romeo when he’s distracted from moping over Rosaline the moment he spots Juliet at the Capulets’ ball.

Deflecting our attention from the play’s dicey ethics is not all that easy a thing to accomplish, but Tucker and his company manage it handily, thanks in large part to a spare, airy production in which sets are nonexistent and nothing seems tethered to the ground. Dance elements and body sculpture choreographed by Alexandra Beller are incorporated throughout to simulate architectural elements such as Julia’s tower window and even a fountain, with half a dozen actors spouting water from their mouths simultaneously. In the scene where several of the principals – fleeing Milan after Valentine is banished by Silvia’s father, the Duke (Leopold Lowe) – are captured by bandits, lopped-off tree limbs are held in place by recruits from the audience only so long as is necessary to suggest a forest. The bandits themselves are as inept and comically polite as the Pirates of Penzance, and no one in the play, including Silvia, ever seems to be in any real jeopardy even from the impulsive Proteus.

All the young principals hold their own beautifully, but the best moments in HVSF’s Two Gentlemen are delivered by the two veterans: Williamson as Julia’s brassy, sassy maid Lucetta (not to mention a gun-happy Second Outlaw) and Rhoads in the primary clown role as Launce, Proteus’ manservant. Launce is saddled with an uncooperative dog named Crab; and although he’s the only cast member with two understudies, Rex certainly didn’t need any help on opening night. The boxer had the audience in the palm of his paw the whole time. When he started humping his master’s side in the midst of one of Launce’s comedic soliloquies, it was difficult to tell, based on Rhoads’s alarmed expression, whether the dog was extraordinarily well-trained or just a spotlight hound doing improv.

This ensemble excels at multitasking, with several actors playing multiple parts, Millonzi doubling as dance captain, Williamson as voice captain and Rindlisbach credited with composing the infectious original music accompanying the show. Rebecca Lustig’s inspired costumes are thrown-together thrift-store finds from no particular era in slightly clashing colors. All the production elements mesh gently enough to keep the tenor of the play appropriately light and breezy, letting us believe that redemption is always possible and forgiveness as fluid as the water spurting from an actor’s puffed-out cheeks.

The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona runs through the end of August in repertory with the Bard’s Othelloand Pierre Corneille’s The Liar. Performances of Two Gentlemen at Boscobel House and Gardens’ 540-seat outdoor pavilion are scheduled for July 3, 6, 8, 12, 14, 18, 20, 22, 26, 28, 31, August 3, 6, 10, 13, 26 and 29; check the HVSF website at http://hvshakespeare.org for alternate venues. Performances begin at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 7 p.m. on all other nights. Ticket prices range from $21 to $79 depending on night of the week, seat location and age of audience member. Package discounts are offered. To order or for more info, call the box office at (845) 265-9575 or visit the website.

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, July 3-August 29, 7 or 8 p.m., $21-$79, Boscobel House and Gardens, 1601 Route 9D, Garrison; (845) 265-9575, http://hvshakespeare.org.

Originally published at http://www.hudsonvalleyalmanacweekly.com/2014/06/26/hudson-valley-shakespeare-festival-serves-up-delightful-two-gentlemen-of-verona/


The Liar: Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

The New Yorker


Originally posted on http://www.newyorker.com/arts/events/theatre/the-liar-hudson-valley-shakespeare-festival

It’s not often, these days, that an audience holds its breath, waiting to see how a playwright will resolve a line of dialogue, then sighs with satisfaction, responds with laughter, even breaks into applause at the author’s successful feat of derring-do. But so it is with David Ives’s dazzling 2010 “translaptation,” to use his own portmanteau, of Pierre Corneille’s 1643 comedy. Composing in rhymed couplets of iambic pentameter, Ives is arguably the star of the show, much as in Corneille’s and Molière’s theatre, where the cleverness of a turn of phrase was supremely valued. And it’s no small feat to outshine Boscobel’s glorious outdoor playing space, nor the comic performances of the farce’s two leads—Jason O’Connell (Dorante, the tireless titular fabricator), mixing in bits of Nicholson, Brando, and hip-hop rhythms; and Michael Borrelli (Cliton, his valet), providing perfect deadpan complement and impeccable timing. Russell Treyz nimbly directs the complicated-for-its-own-sake tale of ambition, lust, foolishness, mistaken identity, and, yes, twins. In repertory with “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “Othello.”

HVSF’s ‘Othello’ engages from start to finish


By Matt Andrews

For The Poughkeepsie Journal

Published on July 3, 2014

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival opened the third production of its 2014 season, Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello,” running in repertory through Aug. 31 with “The Two Gentleman of Verona” and David Ives’ “The Liar.” Under the leadership of new Artistic Director Davis McCallum and Executive Director Maggie Whitlum, the region’s professional Shakespeare company is housed at Boscobel House and Gardens in Garrison and performs in an open-air 540-seat theater tent.

Directed by Associate Artistic Director Christopher V. Edwards, “Othello” continues the festival’s long tradition of Shakespeare eye-candy that is clearly spoken and skillfully performed.

Kurt Rhoads as Iago deftly executes his step-by-step quest to seek revenge against Othello, general of the Venice army, for being passed over for promotion to his personal lieutenant. Rhoads speaks the text so lucidly that one forgets it’s Shakespeare, while always catching the richness of the language.

Nance Williamson, as Iago’s wife Emilia, brings a vibrant emotional connection to her character, a humanistic portrayal that never sits on the fence. Leopold Lowe as Othello is obviously skilled, yet one longs for a more voracious unleashing of misguided jealous rage in later scenes.

Andy Rindlisbach’s Cassio lacks variety but nicely demonstrates the character’s loyalty to Othello, justifying his initial appointment as lieutenant. Susannah Millonzi as Desdemona and Jason O’Connell as Roderigo provide eloquent and poignant performances.

Edwards’ production is expertly staged and always interesting, though there a few elements that distance the audience, limiting their investment in the emotional journeys of the characters. Some of the comedic moments feel like intrusions, jolting the audience instead of luring them in. It is difficult to tell if there is an intended campy quality to the soldiers and secret-service-like attendants. They provide a nice military structure to open the play, but their posturing within is less successful. In terms of casting, there is a stark contrast in the maturity of Iago to the youthfulness of Cassio, and it’s a stretch to accept their similar leadership footing.

These occasional instances do not confuse the greater success of a production filled with unique moments and memorable performances. Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s “Othello” is engaging from start to finish and well worth your time.

 Originally published at http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/entertainment/theater/2014/07/03/hudson-valley-shakespeare-festival/11924909/

Matt Andrews is an associate professor and director of theater at Marist College. Contact him at matthew.andrews@marist.edu


HV Shakespeare Festival artfully revives ‘Othello’


For the Times Herald-Record

GARRISON — “Men should be what they seem,” Iago tells his general Othello.

It’s ironic because “Honest” Iago appears to be a loyal, blunt, straightforward, supportive and seasoned soldier who advises his supposed friend Roderigo to “Put money in thy purse” while robbing him blind and urges Othello to watch his wife Desdemona with lieutenant Cassio while plotting each one’s downfall.

Iago is the master manipulator who works out his evil plot gradually but finds too late that his game becomes a life-and-death struggle in Othello’s hands. The villain does not die by the end of the play but is left to be tortured. “It is happiness to die,” Othello claims in this heartrending tragedy.

The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is staging a strongly acted revival of “Othello” under the artful direction of Christopher V. Edwards.

Set in modern times, the soldiers in Venice are neatly uniformed or in combat camouflage after they invade Cyprus, while non-military folks are fashionably attired, thanks to Charlotte Palmer-Lane’s spot-on costume designs. The players look and act like our contemporaries, soldiers salute, drill and turn on their heels with precision, in contrast to civilians like Roderigo and Desdemona, who live in a casually different world. This is an Elizabethan classic that speaks to our own racial and sexist society.

Iago dominates this production. Kurt Rhoads, who has played Macbeth, Benedict and other roles in the past, makes sense of Iago’s crazed behavior in his anger at being passed over for promotion in favor of Cassio, his suspicion of his wife Emilia’s infidelities and his hatred of Othello. “I hate the Moor,” he declares over and over even as he carries out orders. Rhoads is hardnosed, cynical, encouraging as an apparent comrade-in-arms to Cassio and others, razor-sharp and self-assured.

As Othello, Leopold Lowe appears confident and in command of military matters, but less sure of himself in dealing with his wife, especially when she crosses the line by interfering in military matters. This Othello lacks self-knowledge in thinking that he will not be “easily jealous” while he quickly turns into a furnace of rage and revenge. Both actors make the long central scene of their shift of roles believable in its irrationality.

As Desdemona, Susannah Millonzi is refreshingly youthful, perky and naïve. She mirrors her surprise and disappointment in Othello’s change of heart toward her in her tender “Sing Willow” scene with Emilia, impeccably portrayed by Nance Williamson as a mature woman utterly shattered by learning the truth of her husband Iago’s vicious actions and her own part in it with the lost handkerchief.

As Roderigo, Jason O’Connell plays the perfect dupe as Desdemona’s love-sick wooer and Iago’s wealthy fool and servant tool.

Stephen Paul Johnson embodies the pompous senator Brabantio with the right emotions of parental fury and then refusal to forgive his daughter, warning Othello, “She has betrayed her father and may thee,” words later echoed by Iago.

As Cassio, Andy Rindlisbach readily falls into Iago’s trap by getting uproariously drunk and then attempting to win back favor through Desdemona.

Magan Wiles makes camp-follower Bianca, Cassio’s mistress, a true original in cowboy hat and short shorts.

In a casting twist that works nicely, Gabra Zackman rules Venice as an authoritative duchess with the assistance of female senators.

Do not miss this chance to experience a contemporary “Othello” that speaks to today in Shakespeare’s own immortal words.

Originally published at http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140701/COMM/407010307/-1/NEWS