Monday, June 26, 2017

HVSF: My Thirty-Year Love Affair

Annamaria on Monday

Where to begin to describe a requited love affair that has lasted so long.  At the beginning, I guess:

Shortly after David and I moved into our country house in Garrison, New York in 1986, I noticed a banner along Route 9D.  There at the entrance to the Boscobel Historic Restoration, it said, “Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.”

“Oh, look,” I said, “we have to go.”

David's answer was the most common that one would expect of most Americans, I imagine.  “I hated Shakespeare in high school.”

I, his Bardolator wife, wasn’t going to let that stop me.  “Oh, David, how can you say that.  You are an intelligent, sensitive, well-read man.  You can’t dismiss the greatest writer ever.”

I got him to indulge me.  One performance that summer thirty years ago and he was hooked too.

Our evenings with HVSF began with a picnic overlooking one of the most majestic views in the country.  That helped.  But it was the clear, contemporary, American style of the acting and totally entertaining productions that worked the magic. 

An early Romeo and Juliet cemented our love relationship with the Festival.  The company then performed that greatest of all love plays under a hand-me-down catering tent, with just a few props and what looked like 1950’s costuming that could have come from a thrift shop.  The players were young, looked like we did when we were teenagers.   Like all HVSF productions, the staging was simple—the show was about the intimacy of the setting, the night, the poetry, and the actors’ voices.

At the ball at the Capulets’ Romeo and Juliet danced to “I Only Have Eyes For You” by the Falcons.  Brilliant.  Finally, a production of that play where the main characters were actually presented as teenagers.  And it wasn’t just any old song from my teenage years.  It was one where the imagery in the lyrics matched the imagery of the play—the stars, the moon.  At intermission, I looked in the program for the name of the director.  Terrence O’Brien, a theater magician, was the Founding Artistic Director of the company.

We love what brings us joy.  Joy is what the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival has delivered to me over the years.

Eventually, the old catering tent was replaced by a venue worthy of the excellence of the performances underneath it.  Lately, I have had the addditional privilege of serving on its board.

One sterling example of joy: the night my six-year-old identical twin grandsons returned from seeing A Comedy of Errors and demanded to know if I had any DVDs of Shakespeare plays.  They wanted more Shakespeare.

These days HVSF is led by our second-generation Artistic Director--Davis McCallum, who is surpassingly  competent at creating great theater and incredibly sure-footed at company leadership.   For the 2017 season, he has given the audience our first world premier, and I got to be there for the opening night.

Joy under the tent reached a new high on Saturday at the company’s current production of Pride and Prejudice directed by Amanda Dehnert in an adaptation by Kate Hamill, who also played Lizzy Bennet to Jason O’Connell’s Mr. Darcy. They and the rest of the cast gave an exuberant, madcap rendering that was at once true to Jane Austen’s novel and a contemporary interpretation of her characters.  Hysterically funny and moving at the same time.   I loved it.  I am going back to see it again.  I wish I could bottle the joy it delivers

The setting ready for the play to begin.

The Bennet Family with Mr. Collins
Photo: T. Charles Erikson

Jason O'Connell as Mr. Darcy
Photo: T. Charles Erikson

The Opening Night After Party

Our Playwright/Our Lizzy

Jason's Mr. Darcy is more than a reserved Englishman.
He is also interpersonally inept, making him 19th and
21st Century at the same time.  

You can learn more about HVSF here.

If you are nearby, I urge you to attend.  If you are far away, the Hudson Valley is absolutely worth a visit for its many attractions.  And if you decide to come, don't miss seeing whatever is on under the tent.  You will fall in love.  I know you will.


  1. I have always loved Shakespeare and never understood why we bothered with anything else at school! In fact, I didn't enjoy the lessons on Shakespeare that much; the long debates about the meanings and origins of unfamiliar words seemed merely to slow down the flow. Often the meanings seemed quite clear from the context or intriguingly rather than irritatingly obscure. I loved to read it on my own, but went to see any play that I could.
    At school I eventually learned to appreciate Dickens, and had no trouble with Walter Scott. But I never managed to develop any rapport with Jane Austen. Her characters seemed to me self centered and their concerns intrinsically boring. I tried again at university, but without success. I guess I will have to try again now that a little time has passed...

    1. Michael, I am with you when it comes to the way Shakespeare is often taught. One can get a PhD by analyzing the life out of the plays. I prefer to sit in the theater and laugh at 400 year old jokes or weep over 400 year old tragedies.

      Regarding Austen, she is goddess to me, but I think her stories are also screwed up in the teaching and especially in the screen portrayals. They are comedies of manners, and very satirical. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” This famous first line sets up the satire. Everything that follows demonstrates the folly of such a premise.
      I wish you could see what I saw on Saturday. You would see the folly. And you would rejoice that the young people find love despite the insanity society inflicts on them. Hilarious and moving. That's Austen to me.

  2. I can't do Jane Austin either, even Death Comes To Pemberly was discarded unfinished I am ashamed to say.
    But the Brumy Bard gave us so many words and phrases that he just made up ( always a good idea )...or did he? Or was it Anne? It was always Anne who kept the kids quiet while he was trying to write. She was good at it - because Anne Hathaway with the children....

    I will get my coat...

    1. Caro, I discarded Death Comes to Pemberly too. It missed the whole point of Austen's story. (See my comment to Michael above.)

      Regarding the Bard making up words, I am also 100% with you. Words that sing. Nothing does it for me more than that.

      Anne did us all a huge favor. Germaine Greer wrote a book called Shakespeare's Wife. The first chapter is brilliant. I bought it based on reading that beginning in a bookstore in St. Pancras Station. Unfortunately, the rest of it was turgid.

  3. I couldn't agree more with you on the beauty of the Hudson Valley. I've never made it to the HVSF--in large part because I'm out of the country generally during the season--but your a heck of an ambassador for the company. My closest experience to what you're talking about (setting wise) was a golf tournament I participated in long ago at the Sleepy Hollow Golf Club. The setting was so surreal I couldn't concentrate on my shots--at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

    1. Bro, that Pride and Prejudice is moving to the Cherry Lane Theater in November. You'll be back in NYC. I'll get the tickets if you and Barbara will come.

      BTW, there is an even more spectacular golf course in Garrison. My brothers say the same thing about it--that you have to play it many, many times before you can concentrate on why you are there. Our Hudson River is breathtaking.

    2. That sounds terrific. I've referred you much appreciated suggestion to my social secretary.

  4. That last photo... when you said "interpersonally inept," are you SURE you weren't thinking about Jeff...?

    1. I'm just happy to see you can spell "interpersonally."

    2. I am a BAD speller. And an even worse proofreader. You got all the good genes when it came to that, Bro.

    3. Speaking interpersonally, I'm just happy you're happy.