The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Boscobel, although not without its faults, makes for a fun evening.
The big white tent with its open arch overlooking Constitution Marsh and the Hudson River is the perfect setting for this bucolic play. Every few moments a train could be seen going up or down the west bank of the river, while as the performance continued the moon slowly rose in the night sky.
HVSF was founded 1987 with an outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Manitoga, home of industrial designer Russell Wright, in Garrison, NY. The following year, Boscobel House and Gardens agreed to host the company’s season under a tent on the estate’s grounds. Since then the company has entertained some 500,000 patrons.
For reasons best known to himself, director Eric Tucker opted to limit his cast to five members – three men and two women – who between them performed the more than twenty parts usually played by different actors. This made for some confusion.
There are three separate plotlines: the tangled romances of two couples; the travails of a group of actors attempting to produce a play of their own; and the antics of a group of fairies who inhabit the wood where the action takes place.
Despite the best efforts of the cast one was never entirely sure who was who or what exactly was happening. (It might have helped had the program listed what roles each of the actors were playing.) With the exception of Nance Williamson who played Helena among others and Jason O’Connell who seemed to play just about everyone, the other members of the cast recited their lines as if they were not quite sure what some of the words meant. As a result one was more conscious of listening to Shakespeare than to an actual drama.
Eventually I gave up trying to make sense of anything and simply sat back to enjoy what was going on, principally the antics of O’Connell who was brilliant in each of his roles. He is a wonderful comic actor adept at slapstick. Soon after the intermission the actors themselves appeared to abandon the constraints of the script with hilarious results. Suddenly what had been a performance turned into a happening much to everyone’s delight.
The HVSF season continues throughout August. “The Winters Tale,” and “The Tempest” are the other Shakespeare productions. In addition they are also presenting “The Arabian Nights” and “The Iliad.”