Visitors from the south of here tell of an annual summer event in Manhattan called Shakespeare in the Park. The productions, they insist, are free, but to grab the valuable ducats for a seat, one must stand for several hours in line.
Closer to home, there is the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, a summer program celebrating its second decade at Boscobel Restoration, a majestic mansion perched on the Hudson in Garrison. Once again, in a grand stage-tent, the HVSF company will breathe life into the Bard of Avon with two productions in repertory: “As You Like It” and “Richard III.”
HVSF Artistic Director Terrence O’Brien, who directs “Richard III,” stressed that accessibility is a mission that drives their labors. “The main thing for us is that we try to make sure that the audience understands the story without having the complete works in their lap.” While all efforts are made to maintain the integrity of the text, an archaic word will occasionally be struck for a more familiar one, so that audiences are not left puzzling and find themselves a stanza or two behind.
“Our actors should sound to their audience as familiar as people talking over the hedgerow in the backyard,” O’Brien said.
Since wanton abuse of power and unjust wars remain national preoccupations, “Richard III” seems a shrewd choice for the summer 2007 program. But O’Brien says that shoehorning Shakespeare into social satire undercuts the universality of the work.
“Despite the ebbs and flows of politics, there are always certain themes that are addressed,” he said. “Fear, hatred, erotic stimulation. If we stay true to those, then people can draw their own parallels to current events.”
Known for their refreshing takes on Shakespeare classics—last summer’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” emphasized the humor of the text as much as the carnality—HVSF has slyly reworked the tale of the bloodthirsty hunchback king, the bipolar villain we love to hate. In rereading this tale of power and manipulation, O’Brien saw a parallel between the conniving people and insects.
“Like the insect world, there is a predatory nature to the society,” he said, “and people are ruthless because they need to survive.” Not one person in the play, he added, can lay claims to innocence. “Even children have a little edge, and everyone in the court has committed crimes.”
That sensibility is played out in the production costumes, where the regal costumes of archbishops and cardinals sprout wings and coats and their clasped hands suggest the ruthless praying mantis. The armor of the king and his warrior retinue conjure the segmented chitinous bodies of various garden and forest bugs—“spindly and not too affectionate,” O’Brien said. In battle, soldiers employ swords as hornets wield stingers.
“It’s like a science fiction film,” O’Brien said. “It’s like being on another planet.” When people ask the time period for this offbeat production, O’Brien responds, “One thousand years in the future.”
“Richard III” will be staged in repertory at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival through August 18; “As You Like It” through September 2. Tickets $25 to $42. (845) 265-9575; www.hvshakespeare.org.