The season is chosen, the directors hired, the shows cast.
Then the tent goes up at Boscobel and theater lovers from across the Lower Hudson Valley flock to a majestic spot overlooking the Hudson Highlands and West Point — to see what’s new.
This year, there’s plenty new.
There’s a new artistic director. Davis McCallum, a 39-year-old Rhodes Scholar and rising star on the New York and regional theater scene, comes to Garrison to succeed Terry O’Brien, who founded the festival 27 summers ago. I understand that McCallum was one of more than 100 applicants for the position.
A new director joins the fold. Eric Tucker notches his first show at Hudson Valley, directing “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” His concept is to create a company of players to play everything from soldiers to fountains.
There are two never-seen-under-the-tent premieres. “Othello,” directed by Christopher V. Edwards, makes its first turn under the tent, as does David Ives’ adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s “The Liar,” directed by Russell Treyz. (Ives himself will make an appearance at the tent on June 15.)
After a few years away, Rhoads and Williamson return. Kurt Rhoads and Nance Williamson, (pictured above) the company’s husband-and-wife crown jewels, return to the tent after a couple of years away. Williamson was on Broadway with Orlando Bloom; Rhoads on the road, playing Lincoln. The couple, who live in Garrison, will be busy this summer: Rhoads plays Iago in “Othello” and the clown Launce (among several roles) in “Two Gentlemen of Verona”; Williamson plays Lucetta, the lady-in-waiting to Julia in “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” and Emelia, Iago’s wife, in “Othello.”
This season has a bit with a dog. Rhoads’ Launce will rhapsodize about his heartless dog, Crab, in “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” He’ll be badmouthing a real-life dog: Bulldog Rex O’Reilly won the canine casting call.
There are things that will be new, for their absence. O’Brien’s twinkling-eyed ability to reduce Shakespeare to its most elemental — audience, actor, text — will be missed. (That’s O’Brien, above, in a photo by Carucha Meuse.) Festival regulars will also no doubt miss two stalwarts of the company, Richard Ercole and Wesley Mann. All three, I understand, wanted to be here for season 28 but were not brought back. To contemplate the tent without its leader, its leading straight man (Ercole), and one of its clown princes (Mann, pictured below in a photo by Carucha Meuse) is difficult.
And things new for their impending absence. Consider, too, the position of Chris Edwards, who brought us the spectacular “Romeo & Juliet” and hilarious “Bombitty of Errors” and “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” in recent years. Edwards was one of the 100 applicants seeking to succeed O’Brien. As associate artistic director, one might have thought he’d have had a good shot.
But one would have been wrong.
When he was passed over by the search committee, Edwards resigned his post and the post of running the company’s outstanding educational program that sends teaching artists into schools across the Hudson Valley.
But Edwards (seen below, with Michael Borrelli, foreground) stayed on to direct “Othello,” a play about a man, Iago, who is passed over for a job and extracts his revenge by sowing jealousy.
The plot under the tent couldn’t get much thicker.
Enter Davis McCallum, the new artistic director, an Atlanta native married to an assistant U.S. attorney. They have two sons: Thomas, 6, and Angus, 3.
His wife, Sarah, is a federal prosecutor who will commute to Lower Manhattan for the summer. The couple met as Rhodes Scholars at Oxford. She was studying law but “moonlighting doing student plays.”
“She was an actress and was very good and I think she still uses some of that in her work today,” he says. “She was terrific as Laura in ‘The Glass Menagerie.'”
Asked about his time on the boards, he bristles a bit.
“It would be a mischaracterization to talk about my acting,” he says. “But when I was in college, I took a year off and was in a touring company. We did four Shakespeare plays in rep for six months over 30 states. It was a transformational experience. I still think of it as informing my aesthetic in terms of approaching Shakespeare. We would perform in community halls and break rooms and cafeterias. It was a very direct and playful connection with the audience.”
The McCallums will be Hudson Valley residents this summer, with the boys attending local camps as the family rents the home of a friend who’s in the national tour of the musical “Once.”
There’s a simplicity to that Tony-winning show that McCallum says is akin to the festival he now leads.
“You’re not in the dark being ignored and being presented with something you sit back and regard from a distance. It’s happening right there with you. Not to you. But with you.”
It helps, he says, that under the tent, the actors are surrounded on three sides by the audience.
“And that you can see them and that the first row of the audience is on the same ground that the actors are standing on. There’s something profound about that, I think.”
McCallum’s directing credits range from Chatauqua and Georgia to Princeton and The Old Globe, but he has considerable shoes to fill. Founding artistic director O’Brien, whose departure was announced last fall, set a standard for Shakespeare at its most basic.
(I remember one of our first meetings, when O’Brien told me the only reason to lug a “Complete Works” along to Boscobel was to sit on it to improve your view. This, he told me, is living Shakespeare.)
There’s a steep learning curve, McCallum says, to figure out how to lead a summer theater festival with a year-round educational program.
“I’m excited to learn what is the nature of the magic that’s happening under the tent already. I saw Terry’s production of ‘Hamlet’ with my friend, Matt Amendt, in it. A friend and I drove down from Poughkeepsie, where I was directing, and we were running late. And we ran down the path and turned the corner at the rose garden and we were astonished by the amazing tent and this perfect place for performing Shakespeare. Then the play began and I had a second wave of astonishment, at the accomplishment of the company and the excellence of the production.”
McCallum is a freelance director by trade who works on new plays, musicals and Shakespeare. This is his first time being an artistic director.
He won’t direct this summer, but he will next year. He says the challenge this summer is “to be a director and not be directing and trying to figure out how I can be most supportive to the artists who are working this summer.”
As someone who has worked with his share of artistic directors, what does McCallum want in an artistic director?
“An artistic director provides an over-arching structure for what the theater’s trying to achieve, artistically and in terms of the culture of the organization. I like an artistic director who can be honest with me and provide an extra set of eyes at a crucial point in the process when I feel I need it most, if the artistic director can do it in a way that has a light footprint.”
McCallum says his goal is to keep what’s working and expand it.
“I would categorize this as carrying the torch and moving it forward,” he says. “I feel like I share on a fundamental level Terry’s approach to Shakespeare, that it’s about the intersection between the virtuosity of the actor, the imagination of the audience and the inspiration of the text. Those were Terry’s three big things: Actor, audience, script. When I read that on the website, I thought ‘I profoundly believe in that and I would be excited to carry that mission forward.’ I think there’s a real affinity. We’re playing from the same playbook and I’m excited about that.”
If you go
What: Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s 28th season, featuring Shakespeare’s “Othello,” directed by Christopher V. Edwards, Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” directed by Eric Tucker, and David Ives’ adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s “The Liar,” directed by Russell Treyz.
When: Previews begin June 10. Season runs through Aug. 31. “Two Gentlemen of Verona” opens June 19; “The Liar” opens June 21; “Othello” opens June 28. 7 p.m. curtains Mondays
Tickets: Through July 6, $27-$54.50; July 8-Aug. 31, $32-$79.
The bard elsewhere
The Strange Bedfellows of Children’s Shakespeare Theater present “The Bloody Business of William Shakespeare,” a breakneck medley of all the deaths from all of the Bard’s plays. 7 p.m., June 6 and 7. At Tappan Manse Barn, 32 Old Tappan Road, Tappan. http://bloodybiz.brownpapertickets.com
The Royal Shakespeare Company and Picturehouse Entertainment present “Henry IV, Part I” on local movie screens, part of the RSC’s “Live from Stratford-upon-Avon” the RSC series that beams plays from Shakespeare’s home town around the world. Antony Sher plays the title role. At the Showcase Saw Mill and Showcase City Center on June 15 and 16. “Henry IV, Part II” follows in July.
The Public Theater presents Shakespeare in the Park: “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed by Jack O’Brien and starring Hamish Linklater (“New Adventures of Old Christine”) and Lily Rabe (“The Merchant of Venice”) through July 6; and “King Lear,” starring John Lithgow, from July 22 to Aug. 17. Free ticketsare distributed, two per person, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park beginning at noon on the day of each performance. The Virtual Ticketing Lottery is open for day-of-show tickets at www.publictheater.org. The Delacorte Theater is accessible by entering at 81st Street and Central Park West, or 79th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Shakespeare on the Sound presents “Two Gentlemen of Verona” 7:30 p.m., June 12 to 29, except Mondays. Rowayton’s Pinkney Park, 177 Rowayton Ave., Norwalk, Conn. shakespeareonthesound.org.
Rockland Shakespeare Company presents its 17th season with three productions: First up is an abridged “RSC Junior” version of “Much Ado About Nothing” with high-schoolers in the leading roles, June 26-28. The adult season presents “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “The Taming of the Shrew” in repertory, July 10-13 and 17-20. The shows will alternate performances, which are nightly at 7. Free. rocklandshakespearecompany.com. 845-574-4471. email email@example.com.