Notes: King Fool



Why did we do this? I’ve been wondering these last few weeks. King Fool, right. Apt, in good faith, very apt. Because there were too many actors for any one play? Because we had two separate groups? Because it was there? Anyway, we did it. And it turns out that it’s been not only hair-raising and fun and sometimes illuminating, but that these two plays actually relate to each other. Not just because they both have fools who have a lot of disturbing questions, not just because they both have people in power who are in great pain and loneliness, not just because they both deal in madness, but like two dreams dreamt in the same night, one seems the gateway to the other. But mainly: the tenacity these actors and crew have shown is nothing less than remarkable. Ten days ago, a realistic director voice called it off; said it couldn’t be done. But the actors refused to let it go, and that’s life.

Notes: King Lear

King_Lear_promo 19 11.48.11 AM

Directors’ Notes

I think this production started forming in my head while I was with my father in his last days. It was such a privilege to watch the old patriarch cursing his circumstances, fighting, scheming, seeing people that weren’t there, blushing, cooing, steadying his course toward the end, making peace, weeping and laughing. Battling and giving up, giving in. No answers, no big resolution. Just mystery and the preciousness of time.

Life at the threshold of death and the surging tides of family issues are at the core of King Lear. While the play is full of harsh cruelty and hideous rashness, there are moments of tremendous love and selflessness. Through this play we witness a profoundly powerful man, a king of Olympian proportions, confronting his mortality with alternating waves of courage, peevishness, madness, and rage. It is only by losing everything that he finds forgiveness and acceptance. 

The themes of this epic story are alive in our everyday experience. Each of us carries the invisible weight of unspoken grief. We all play parts in the story of losing and dying. If we’re lucky, we will recognize our common ground. If we’re luckier still, someone we love will be with us as we go.

These gifted and dedicated actors and crew-members have gathered for a few short weeks to begin an exploration of this massive and inscrutable play. We have poured all our energy and resources into the words and the interactions of the characters. With you sitting on every side around us, at this night’s performance, we hope to catch one more sliver of light shining into the shadows. 

We hope that you get a glimpse of it too, that you think kindly of our attempt, and above all that you think of King Lear as yours from now on, to visit whenever you please.

Notes: Ondine

One day in a timeless, vaguely medieval world a wandering knight comes upon a small fisherman’s cottage in the enchanted forest, where Ondine, the daughter of the Sea, has grown up as a mortal and is now sixteen, ready to fall in love. Upon seeing Hans, the knight, she does, instantly, and now the trouble begins.

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 3.21.03 PM

We chose the play (by Jean Giraudoux, author of The Madwoman of Chaillot, from three seasons ago) for its outrageous comedic fantasy but we have been discovering a wonderful, heart-breaking love story as we’ve been rehearsing it–not only between two young people but between Humanity and Nature itself. In the middle of a scene rehearsal it’s not uncommon for the whole cast to stop and marvel, or weep, at the terrible ironies of human existence. The cast is large. We have four high school actors, including Autumn Hausthor in the title role in a cast of 17 terrific and multi-talented people, including Hubbard Hall favorites Doug Ryan as the King, Gino Costabile (last year’s Macbeth) as the King of the Sea, Erin Ouelette as the Inquisitor judge, Scott Renzo and Cate Seeley as the girl’s adoptive parents, Myka Plunkett as Bertha, the other woman, and excellent new faces Tony Pallone as the Royal Chamberlain and Maizy Scarpa as the handsome knight. Local jazz musician David Cuite accompanies the play live on double bass, giving the evening a whole other dimension.

The old Hall, built for traveling productions of melodrama, Shakespeare and light opera in 1878, is a remarkable acoustic chamber that we usually use as a freely configured “black box,” positioning each play differently in the space. For Ondine, we are going back to the theater’s roots, not only facing the stage but even using the old painted flats for different scenes. It will be a rare chance to experience the theater as it was designed to play, perfect for the mystery of an adult fairy tale.

Notes: Ondine


Raphael Kirchner, Ondine

Choosing plays for these seasons is always a challenge: the play has to appeal to you, our audiences; it has to appeal to us so that we have a real appetite for the task of getting it in shape against the odds; it has to suit our acting pool; it has to fit into the Hall one way or another… the list goes on.

The first criterion is a crap-shoot–we look for an author, a title or a theme that might excite as many people as possible and we keep our fingers crossed. The second carries a lot of weight–and Ondine more than satisfies that appeal. Giraudoux has a melancholy love of life and cocks his twitching eyebrow at the curious business of being human. The play is funny and satirical, and it tells a tale of love and heartbreak that makes me weep every time I look at it. The young lovers are not only from different genders, classes, places–they are literally from different worlds. They mirror our love affair with nature, or life itself. It’s not a match made in heaven. Gods and humans have always adored and mistrusted one another; neither party has ever been really able to understand the other.

My father, who died last May, used to say “a man trying to understand a woman is like an orangutan trying to play a violin.” The same can be said of us and the battle with our mother and enemy, Nature. She is immortal and indifferent. She is as content with the muddy trickle or the rainbow as with the vast emptiness or her little human child, flailing now in its terrible twos, no nanny around to simmer the little hellion down. We want attention, we want to live forever, we are not content with her miraculous gifts and we burn bright, a quick flash in the void. We want victory–and we are taking one battlefield after another–but it’s killing us. She will weep and rage, go down in defeat, we will realize too late that we are lost–and then she will forget and begin another cycle, as she always has.

Ondine holds a special place for me. In 1971 it brought me to the slope of Mount Equinox, to Wild Farm in Vermont, where a band of long-haired teenagers built a yellow caravan and rehearsed this very play as part of a wild adventure called The Traveling Festival Theater. From there we went to play on town greens, in gazebos, churches and little theaters all over New England and New York. We slept by rivers, were invited to dinner by gracious townspeople, fell in love with life and acted on that feeling. We were just the kind of naive adventurers that might have turned up in a play by Giraudoux. Partly for this reason it is especially good to be working with the wonderful younger members of this troupe. Those were halcyon days. So are these.

Notes: Shirley Valentine


Dear theater-goers,

Welcome to Shirley’s world, a place where the most extraordinary ordinary person can admit her failure, give in to despair, fight back, and finally, with brilliant humility and a wicked sense of humor, summon the courage to change everything as potently as any hero in the canon of Western literature.

I’ve been watching Chris Decker every evening create this world, inch by inch, tear by tear, guffaw by… Somehow it’s become my amazing privilege to be the observer of a big act of alchemy by a truly gifted and skilled artist. I have not been a very objective observer in these rehearsals—ordinarily I’m obsessed with arcane matters of cadence, movement and timing but lately, weeping and laughing, I’ve found myself thinking more about—for instance—how men and women talk with each other, how our lives depend on it.

Chris has taken me to a much deeper place than I expected to visit with this play. She has made me a huge fan of Willy Russell, and I feel like I have found a lifelong friend in Shirley Valentine.

Notes on Macbeth


We have a truly remarkable collaboration going! First of all, the cast itself, a wonderful team of actors and artists is there every day, working together on the scenes, on the set, on costumes and sound. Very different from the usual compartmentalizing of these tasks–and the results are stunningly effective, considering our tiny budget–and emerge from the story itself since it’s the participants who are creating the whole thing. The scenes of violence are well on their way, with the aid of a formidable arsenal of weapons practically donated by Shakespeare & Co, and they are terrible and heartbreaking. The story itself seems to be showing us exactly what to do in the Hall, which is slowly transforming into a Macbeth landscape–and we end each evening feeling regenerated by the privilege of working together on this compact perfection of a play. We are way ahead of schedule and will be starting a long series of run-throughs soon, so we should be in very good shape by opening.

On top of that, John Sutton, an amazing photographer, has been shooting the entire process from the first reading, and we’ll end up with a complete and beautiful record of the process, which we are thinking of turning into an on-demand book that could serve all kinds of purposes. David DeVries will be shooting video… This is the theater working at its absolute best!

Sense & Nonsense

Sense and nonsense are equally subject to critical scrutiny, but it is perhaps more difficult to develop standards for good nonsense. One has to acquire a sense of it. The scenes of The Tennis Court Oath… arose out of a course in site-specific writing. The writing, which is all by the actors themselves, except for small contributions by Shakespeare and Yeats, began with meditative observation of each site. Characters and situations thus came out of the ground, out of the sky. In compilation, revision and rehearsal, good sense and nonsense were judged less by thought than by sensory perception. We tried to keep what smelled good, what rang nicely in the ear.

Notes: Macbeth

Notes on Macbeth

It’s been a great pleasure working on this play with this wonderfully generous cast and crew. We found that the play’s famous darkness is balanced by how beautifully the story is told–and that buoyed us through the long nights of rehearsal.


In this production we decided to focus on the inner lives of the Macbeths themselves. This allowed us to double- and triple-cast all the other parts and relocate some of the scenes in the bedroom and in Macbeth’s fitful dreams. Once he gives in to his wife’s terrible need, he will “sleep no more.” As the events unfold, it becomes clear that something as commonplace as a good night’s sleep is worth more than all the kingdoms in the world. I wanted the Macbeths to be young, in a time of life when sexual emotion is at its strongest, so that the core of the problem resides right down the middle of the marriage bed. If grotesque ambition is a disease that leads not only to general chaos but to pain and madness, as is the case in Macbeth, it might do well to look deeper, through the lucid eyes of the perpetrator, to find the roots of the disease. And he speaks of it clearly, right to us, regularly throughout the course of his downfall. Thank you for giving him someone who will listen.

Notes: As You Like It


Director’s notes

Yes, As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, but why? The plot is complicated and inconsequential, the characters are not as eloquent or eccentric as in other plays; on the surface of it, it’s a play to  make one rather shrug than swoon. The reason people have always loved the play, I think, is due to things not quite logical. Like love and nature, the  intertwined theme of the play. Forced away from their lives at the corrupt court to the hard life of the country, most of the characters experience a longing for their essential selves, which prompts actions both deep and ridiculous. Four (count em, four!) pairs of young lovers go through all the pain and comedy we all know about or will know about, and yet, in Shakespeare’s most magnanimous love play, we get a sense that love is possible despite the impossibility of it. This unfolds alongside a gentle, almost subliminal exploration of the big questions. So we like that. And, there’s wrestling!

The play takes place in an imaginary time, in the following locales: The DeBoys’ Estate, the Town Square, The Duke’s Council Chamber, and the Forest of Arden.

Notes: Hadrian VII

Let us now praise crackpot visionaries.

The original Hadrian VII is a 1904 fantasy autobiography of FW Rolfe, or Baron Corvo, a Symbolist writer, painter, homoerotic and underwater photographer—and lifelong seeker of the priesthood—who died in poverty and neglect. Peter Luke used the material to write his first play in 1960, which met with tremendous success in London. The rest of Peter Luke’s work is largely forgotten.

If Rolfe and Luke have ended up in a special part of Heaven, then RD Laing, the reluctant leader of the Anti-Psychiatry movement, is right there with them. In 1960, in The Divided Self (it was his first book, highly regarded; Laing’s professional standing declined with each one that followed), he wrote:

“… the cracked mind of the schizophrenic may let in light which does not enter the intact minds of many sane people…”

But even the most ordinary of us is little cracked, don’t you think? Two years ago, after a night of Elephant Man, I mentioned the play to Doug Ryan. It’s a real mind-bender, I said, like one of those Peter O’Toole movies from the 60’s. The hero thinks he’s Pope, but he’s in a straightjacket, issuing papal decrees from a padded cell. But he’s not just crazy—he has a high moral understanding. Doug said, “Hmm, let’s look into it.”

When I got the miraculous call to direct the play, I found my old copy and read it through, the yellow pages almost turning to dust in my hands. It was all exactly as I remembered it—except the part about the padded cell and the straightjacket. I couldn’t find it anywhere.

So as we started exploring the play, we decided that just because something isn’t there, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there—it’s just hidden somewhere in the cracks. Tonight, we ask you to look upon all our little fissures with kindness.