My latest Wall Street Journal drama column is another report from the road, this time on the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s As You Like It and Barrington Stage Company’s revival of Black Comedy. Both shows are nifty:
Summer Shakespeare festivals are thick on the ground in America these days, and more than a few of them are a pleasure to behold. If you’re searching for the best of all possible times, though, you’ll have trouble topping the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. I see a lot of Shakespeare, but I can’t think of another outdoor festival that has a higher overall batting average. Hudson Valley’s deliberately informal productions are a model of cultural populism at its most engaging and effective, and Kurt Rhoads’ uproariously loony staging of “As You Like It,” performed in the shoot-’em-up style of a bottom-of-the-bill B Western, is one of the cleverest updatings of the Bard to have come my way….
The brightest star of the show is Joey Parsons, the fascinating Ariel of Terrence O’Brien’s 2005 “Tempest,” who is no less striking this time around as Mr. Rhoads’ Rosalind. Decked out in tight jeans and a red cowboy hat à la Annie Oakley, she plays the ardent lover-in-disguise of “As You Like It” with an eager, sexy zest that put me in mind of the young Annette Bening….
Peter Shaffer is better known for such bristlingly serious plays as “Amadeus” and “Equus,” but with “Black Comedy,” first seen on Broadway in 1967, he proved himself to be no less adept at strewing the stage with banana peels. It’s a standard-issue British comedy about a poverty-stricken ultra-modern sculptor (Brian Avers) who’s juggling two unsuspecting ladies (Ginifer King and Nell Mooney), enhanced by one brilliant twist. The action takes place during a power failure–and the onstage lighting is reversed. When the lights are on, the stage is black. When the lights are off, we see the actors lurching around in the “dark.” Add a priceless porcelain sculpture of Buddha and a strategically positioned trap door, and the result is collective hysteria….
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