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2009 Hudson Valley Summer Theater Round-Up 

As another Hudson Valley summer commences, farm stands throughout the region have posted signs that exhort neighbors to Buy Local. The advice is sound; by purchasing produce, dairy, and meat from area farmers, the benefits are numerous: support for the shrinking number of farms, keeping capital in your area, limiting pollution by not trucking in goods from elsewhere, and savoring fresh goods. Those dedicated to such ecological imperatives are known as locavores.

When it comes to summer theater-going, why not observe the same pledge to buy local? The advantages are similar: supporting local artists and keeping entertainment money in the community, saving gas by not venturing into New York.

But what about freshness, you ask? Aren’t Valley offerings simply warmed-over chestnuts? Not at all. While some local companies play it safe with crowd pleasers, more are introducing new playwrights.

Whether your yen is for high drama, avant-garde pieces, or old favorites, the Valley offers it. If you demand star wattage, take heart; film and TV actors regularly take to local stages to keep their acting chops honed. Herein is a survey of the most compelling theater offerings from Putnam County to Greene County this summer. It offers a potent argument for joining the ranks of Hudson Valley locavores.

Making everything old new again is the mission of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, now in its 23rd season. Each year, Artistic Director Terrence O’Brien and company reimagine the Bard, refusing to let the dust settle on 400-year-old works. Rather than treating the plays as museum pieces, O’Brien tells actors to “presume the play is written by someone alive today; then you connect the work to the world around you.”

For the first time this season, the HVSF will perform its productions in repertory for the season, which runs from June 14 through September 6. They include the war drama “Pericles”—which O’Brien promises will be played as an action movie—the farce “Much Ado about Nothing” and the chaotic, irreverent Shakespeare 101 piece “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” This manic romp zips through all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 97 minutes.

The HVSF has a setting as grandiose as its productions: the grounds of the Boscobel mansion, perched on the banks of the Hudson River, where audience members can enjoy picnics before each performance.

Another venue where nature enhances the theatergoing experience is Performance Spaces for the 21st Century, known to habitués as ps21. Now in its fourth season, this Chatham performance tent stands in a 107-acre apple orchard with the Catskills rising in the west. According to founder Judith Grunberg, the “spaces” in the name refers to the long-term plan to build an environmentally sensitive year-round facility.

ps21 offers an eclectic schedule of films, live music, dance pieces and theater. Parents will welcome the high-toned offerings for children. Mask-and-theater troupe Arm-of-the-Sea offers a more thoughtful take on the giddy Hudson River Quadricentennial. “Mutual Strangers: Henry Hudson and the River That Discovered Him” (June 13) will emphasize the downside of that historic milestone: Native American genocide and ecological destruction. On June 28, children can join dancer Rod Ferrone, who combines song, dance, vaudeville, and hat tricks in “Feet 2 the Beat.” Also for families is “Those Two Guys,” starring Patrick Ferri and acrobatic clown Dave Cox (August 1). But leave the kids at home for “Mombo” (June 19–21), in which Chatham playwright Alan Gelb dissects the relationship between mother and child in vignettes that range from farcical to poignant.

Shadowland Theater, a stately Art Deco house in Ellenville, continues to bring classics and new works to weekenders and summer vacationers. Artistic Director Brendan Burke, a veteran of the Manhattan stage, brings professionals to Southern Ulster County. Past artists include Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” and Judd Hirsch in Yasmine Reza’s “Art.” This summer, Burke seeks to mount works that “deal with the economy, the Depression, and the American psyche.” Fittingly, the 25th anniversary season opens with Arthur Miller’s “The Price” (May 29–June 14). Two warring brothers are forced to take inventory of the achievements of their father, who lost everything in the Great Depression. “The Price” stars veteran actor-author Orson Bean and Stephanie Zimbalist, best known for TV’s “Remington Steele.”

The season closes with David Mamet’s sacred and profane “American Buffalo,” in which three desperate men plan a heist. “It’s another view of American business, from the underbelly,” says Burke. Between these powerful bookends, however, are two comedies and a mystery: “Almost Maine” (June 19–July 12), “Gutenberg, The Musical!” (July 17–August 9), and “Accomplice” (August 15–September 7).

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  • Something for everyone: Jay Blotcher’s summer theater preview.


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