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 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,

Originally published at



The Liar: Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

The New Yorker


Originally posted on

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

Matt Andrews is an associate professor and director of theater at Marist College. Contact him at


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