Bard to the Bone | Theater | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
Bard to the Bone
The cast of Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s “The Comedy of Errors” on the grounds of Boscobel in Garrison.

Over the past 25 years, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival has staged both the celebrated and neglected works of Stratford-upon-Avon’s high-profile resident. However, those who have trekked to performances at Boscobel, the neoclassical estate in Garrison, may have noticed an oversight: HVSF has never staged “Hamlet.” “It’s a very complex and rich play,” says founding artistic director Terrence O’Brien, “and I think I was probably intimidated by it.”

Yet after having directed works as varied as the Bard’s "Pericles," "Cymbeline," "The Tempest," "Macbeth," and "Titus Andronicus," O’Brien finally felt equal to taking on the moody Dane.

One impetus for his decision was meeting actor Matthew Amendt, who performed in last year’s HVSF production of "Troilus and Cressida." O’Brien felt that this new member of his company had the stuff to overcome the built-in liabilities of the role of the brooding prince of Elsinore.

“The part has a lot of pitfalls, not the least of which, it tends to make the player feel very egomaniacal,” the director says. “Consequently, productions tend to end up all centered not on the character but on the actor playing the character.” Yet Amendt showed no evidence of an expansive ego. O’Brien invited him to return this season, to face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

While respectful of the text, O’Brien will not be cowed by it. In rehearsals, he has instructed his company to jettison traditional readings and seek out fresh renderings. “We try to treat it, as much as possible, I guess, as a new play,” he says.

In repertory with "Hamlet" is “The Comedy of Errors,” another chestnut previously mounted by HVSF. While this is a play “that people take for granted,” he says, “Comedy” evinces a complexity that belies the youthful age of its creator.

This mad caper about twins and mistaken identity offers more than a tickle of the funny bone; O’Brien points out subplots concerning the gravitas of marriage, matters of gender identity, and observations about the shared biology of twins separated at birth.

Rounding out the 2011 season is "Around the World in 80 Days," based on the 1873 novel by Jules Verne. Its inclusion is a nod to both current fiscal realities and the shifting winds of American literacy. At a time when Shakespeare is not automatically taught in secondary school, the next generation of theatergoer is understandably skittish about the frilly verbiage of an Elizabethan playwright.

Therefore, O’Brien has capitulated, albeit nobly, in order to “introduce people to us who would otherwise be afraid of Shakespeare, but we might eventually be able to bring them over to the Shakespeare side of the park.”
Previous attempts at expanding the HVSF audience have included "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare," a frantic condensation of all 37 pieces for the theater, as well as “The Bomb-itty of Errors,” a hip-hop nod to the august farce.

The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival once distinguished itself with youthful brashness, giving the master overtly post-modern readings. (The 2007 "Richard III" depicted the king as a bipolar despot.) But self-conscious iconoclasm is less of a priority for the festival’s next quarter-century, O’Brien says. “Increasingly, what I’ve been trying to do is get out of the way of the play and let the play do more of the work.”

“Around the World in 80 Days,” “The Comedy of Errors,” and “Hamlet” will be performed in repertory at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, at Boscobel in Garrison through September 4. (845) 265-9575;

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