If you heard that some startup local theatrical troupe was about to put on its first summer Shakespeare production out-of-doors, what would be your first guess as to which play they would select? If you picked A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you’d be right more often than not. It’s well-beloved; it’s frothy and funny; it’s seasonally appropriate; it even has fairies. Elementary school kids often experience their first nibble by the acting bug playing one of the “rude mechanicals” in the Pyramus and Thisbe bit.
The down side to this ubiquity, of course, is that Dream has become the Shakespeare play that we’ve all seen at least one time too many (if there can be such a thing). If we don’t have an offspring, niece or nephew involved, it can be difficult to feel inspired to see it once again. For seasoned theater troupes, coming up with a topical twist, anachronistic setting or refreshing performance approach can be a challenge. How do you pique the interest of jaded audiences without coming off too gimmicky?
If you’ve ever been to one of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF)’s delightfully inventive, professionally rendered shows in the big white tent on the gorgeous grounds of Boscobel in Garrison, you know that you’ll be in good hands when it takes on A Midsummer Night’s Dream this summer – the more so knowing that it’ll be directed by Eric Tucker, who served up a delectable helping of another of the Bard’s lightweight comedies last summer, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. This season we are promised a “modernized” version of Dream, with 20 characters portrayed by only five actors. It should be fun indeed to see how those demands put the cast through its paces; things could get gloriously goofy here.
Less familiar to most audiences is Shakespeare’s late romance A Winter’s Tale, though it’s famed for containing the stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear” and a statue that comes to life. This production will be the first play at Boscobel to be directed by HVSF’s new artistic director, Davis McCallum, who took the helm last year. So his staging chops will be interesting to size up as well.
Folks who caught the brilliant 2014 production of Corneille’s The Liar are well aware that sometimes the coolest offering on HVSF’s summer menu isn’t necessarily something by Shakespeare. This year the troupe takes on an adaptation by playwright/director Mary Zimmerman of the timeless classic of Middle Eastern folklore, The Arabian Nights. The wily Scheherazade spinning mesmerizing tales to save her own neck from the royal axe sounds like the perfect framing device for presenting a variety of stories familiar and unfamiliar. Lileana Blain-Cruz directs.
All three mainstage productions cycle in repertory all summer, through September 1. There will also be a limited run of the Obie-winning one-man show An Iliad, a contemporary reworking of Homer’s epic poem, starring HVSF stalwart Kurt Rhoads. And in August, fledgling actors in the HVSF Conservatory Company will present The Tempest, geared toward young audiences.
The gates at Boscobel House and Gardens open a couple of hours before each performance, so go early, bring a picnic or purchase one at the outdoor café and soak up the iconic view of Storm King, the Hudson Highlands and the river at its Rhinelike best. You might even spot a sprite or two dancing in the twilight. For dates and start times, ticket prices and reservations, call Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (845) 265-9575 or visit www.hvshakespeare.org.
Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, through September 1, Boscobel House & Gardens, 1601 Route 9D, Garrison; (845) 265-9575, www.hvshakespeare.org.