Originally published by Fina Badolato, Times Herald-Record
One of Dante De Leo’s most vivid boyhood memories is visiting the Bear Mountain Inn on Sundays with his family, and being captivated by a tapestry hanging above the stone fireplace. The art depicts a yawning, stretching Rip Van Winkle, awakening from a 20-year slumber to a world he doesn’t recognize.
“That’s how I first heard of Rip Van Winkle,” said De Leo, now a lawyer in the Sullivan County Attorney’s office – and, an aspiring actor. The Newburgh resident will be making his professional debut in Rip Van Winkle Or, Cut the Old Moon into Stars, presented locally by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival over Labor Day Weekend.
De Leo portrays Dolph Heyliger, a village boy who, while Van Winkle sleeps for two decades, grows into an adult who reunites with Rip’s daughter, Sara – “sort of a romantic interest,” he said. The show will be presented in free performances staged under the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s theater tent looking out toward the Hudson River at historic Boscobel House and Gardens in Garrison, and at the University Settlement Camp in Beacon.
This dream-come-true for De Leo – and about 40 citizen actors drawn from the Hudson Valley region – is being made possible by HVSF’s Full Circle program. The multi-pronged program reaches out to the community through free storytelling, designing and writing workshops, community gatherings and performances with professionals.
“We believe that the creative impulse belongs to everyone,” said Elizabeth Audley, a 20-year veteran of theater and HVSF’s director of community engagement and associate producer. “Making art together makes communities stronger and more resilient, and we hope to broaden and deepen the ways that local Hudson Valley residents can connect with the arts, and with one another.”
To launch this year’s Full Circle, HVSF invested in its first-ever main-stage commission, a world-premiere adaptation of Washington Irving’s classic Rip Van Winkle tale. In the new Rip Van Winkle Or, Cut the Old Moon into Stars, writer/director Seth Bockley combines Hudson Valley/Catskills lore – including content from two additional Irving texts – with other tall tales of the region.
“This show is really honoring the Hudson Valley,” said De Leo. “There’s a certain magic you know about, from just living here. It’s a nice experience being involved in a play that’s inspired by this area.”
Described as a “joyful, hilarious, music-filled celebration of the region,” this new telling of Rip Van Winkle will feature local actors, musicians and dancers from Newburgh, Cornwall, Tuxedo Park, Poughkeepsie and beyond, alongside four professional cast members, plus the work of visual and textile artists. Community participation in the play has been incorporated at nearly every stage of development: scenic materials are sourced from local neighborhoods, and a community design/build team is constructing sets, props, costumes and helping backstage.
Cornwall resident and actor Sally Sirota explained that taking part in the HVSF production is an evolving process. “As different talents emerge, they get featured or incorporated into a group activity,” she said. “It’s very much a team effort, and the community innovation is welcomed and encouraged. The privilege of working alongside these incredibly talented professionals is pretty amazing.”
Sirota will also perform on the flute, appropriate for the play’s setting in the American Revolution era. “The composer is writing something original for me to play,” she said. When she’s not acting under her stage name, Sirota works under her maiden name, Dr. Sally Faith Dorfman; she’s chief of occupational medicine at the West Point Department of Preventive Medicine and Wellness.
“These are marvelous experiences, whether being in the audience or participating as an actor,” she said. “I’ve learned an appreciation of team work and what every individual can contribute – and, to paraphrase Shakespeare, how all the world’s a stage and all the people in it, players … we go from different stages to different roles in life.”
Several other local residents are among the show’s cast, including Newburgh residents Roger Acevedo and Yudy Gomez and Tuxedo Park resident Bill Lemanski.
Sirota urges community members to make time to see this new telling of a classic tale. “There is a very clear theme emerging of reinterpreting the formerly given roles of women,” she said. “In the original story, the wife is depicted as a nag; in this production, she’s the one who holds things together.”
Sirota and De Leo have high praise for Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival and Full Circle. “It’s a remarkable group that’s reaching out to the acting community and offering as much as they can to different communities,” said Sirota.
Don’t Forget the Shakespeare
Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, celebrating its 32nd summer season, has earned high praise from the likes of The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal. But it’s really the folks who come from near and far for these productions – set under an open-air theater tent, overlooking the Hudson River – and performed with verve, humor, imagination and elaborate care for detail whose thumbs-up make these productions winners.
If You Go
- What: “Rip Van Winkle; or, Cut the Old Moon into Stars”
- When: 7:00 p.m., Aug. 31, Sept.1 & 3
- Where: Boscobel House and Gardens, 1601 Route 9D, Garrison
- When: 4:00 p.m., Sept. 2
- Where: University Settlement Camp, 724 Wolcott Ave., Beacon
- Tickets: Free tickets for all performances available online starting Aug. 1 and in-person at select locations at the end of August. Learn more.
- Info: hvshakespeare.org
- Box office: 845-265-9575