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Sharing Space

Originally published on May 19, 2023 by Alison Rooney in The Highlands Current.

With fewer vestiges of the pandemic inertia that lingered into 2022, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is preparing for an energy-infused season this summer.

“We can’t wait to welcome audiences,” said Davis McCallum, its artistic director. “It’s been such a long time since people came together to truly celebrate.”

To that end, he says, the festival chose for 2023 plays that provide “an experience that you share. This summer people can have confidence in the open air. The performances are safe and remind us of the importance of sharing space, and having third spaces, which are not home, not work, but a place for connection.”

HVSF this year will bring back “the picnic aspect of the experience. We have a great new menu of local food,” he says.

McCallum says that 2022 was “a pilot season” at the festival’s new location at the former Garrison Golf Course, after moving from the Boscobel site that had been its home for more than 30 years.

Each night, HVSF will host a guided walk around its property and “share the design for the new open-air theater we’re planning” to replace its tent, he says. “The bar will be open after the show on weekends and, if it is similar to last year, it will turn into a place to chat post-show with some of the actors.”

Of course, as always, the plays are at the center of it all. This season will feature two by Shakespeare, Henry V and Love’s Labor’s Lost, and a contemporary, musical retelling of The Odyssey, which reimagines it from the point of view of Penelope, Odysseus’ left-behind wife. Fittingly, her name is the title of the play.

HVSF has only performed Henry V once before, in 2002. Although categorized by scholars as one of Shakespeare’s “history” plays, McCallum notes it is equal parts comedy and romance, “with room for clowning and physicality. It celebrates playmaking and acting.”

It will be performed in the round. “There will be a character called ‘the chorus’ who acts as a go-between, inviting the audience to participate in co-creating with the actors,” McCallum says. “He’ll be played by Sean McNall [HVSF’s associate artistic director] as an 11-year-old, and he’s infused with the transformation.” Emily Ota, who appeared in 2022 in Romeo and Juliet and Mr. Burns, will play the title role.

“The Henriad [history plays] traces Henry’s adolescent evolution to adulthood to kingship,” says McCallum. “This play completes that journey.”

Love’s Labor’s Lost has been performed frequently by the festival, with good reason, according to McCallum, who says it’s “hugely entertaining and easy to understand — there’s that experience of falling in love we can all relate to.”

It will be directed by Amanda Dehnert, who directed Pride and Prejudice in 2017. Its pop-rock score is by Dehnert and Andre Pleuss.

The plays appear quite different but both are about growing up, McCallum says. “They seem like they’re going to deliver one thing, then the fifth act surprises you — they both have a great twist. And there are wonderful parts for the whole company in those plays.”

That company includes mainstays Kurt Rhoads and Nance Williamson, as well as festival veterans Carl Howell, Luis Quintero, Antoinette Robinson and Stephen Michael Spencer.

New to the festival is Tatiana Wechsler, who will perform solo in Penelope, a world premiere that will close the season. McCallum heard the score at a Manhattan music club. “It started as a concept album by Alex Bechtel, written during the pandemic when he was separated from his family,” he says. “It sits between genres and is just compelling.” It will be directed by Eva Steinmetz.

McCallum says of the troupe: “The legacy of this company is we’re not apologizing for being American actors in the here and now. They bring their full experience into these plays, in surprising ways. They have an instinct for the truth of a moment.”

The schedule will look different this season: It begins with previews of Henry V on May 31 and adds Love’s Labor’s Lost six weeks later, with previews beginning July 12. Both plays continue in repertory until late August, ending a week apart, before Penelope begins its two-week run on Sept. 2.

The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is located at 2015 Route 9 in Garrison. Tickets range from $10 for obstructed views to $100 for center front on weekends. See hvshakespeare.org/tickets-events.