What do you mean, you’ve never been to Shadowland? Admittedly, the mid-Hudson is loaded with local choices for summer theatre experiences, and all it takes is a look at today’s Broadway and Off-Broadway ticket prices to make that diverse menu seem very tantalizing indeed. By all means, catch some of the dramatic, comedic and musical offerings provided by Powerhouse at Vassar, Bard SummerScape, the Woodstock Playhouse, Bird-on-a-Cliff, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, the Center for the Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, Byrdcliffe Theatre, Unison and so many others. But if in your theatrical wanderings you’ve somehow overlooked the top-shelf, Broadway-quality productions put on by this amazing little venue in downtown Ellenville, you’re missing something really special.
As you may have heard, the Shadowland Theatre has been undergoing a three-year, million-dollar facelift. And I’m pleased to report that – in terms of what’s visible to the theatregoer, at least – the work appears to have been completed. Built in 1920 as a vaudeville house, then turned into a movie palace following a fire in 1939, Shadowland reportedly once managed to squeeze in some 900 patrons at a time. Artistic director Brendan Burke, the mastermind behind the renovations, made what might strike some as an audacious, counterintuitive choice in a time when every potential cash cow seems to get milked dry: He downsized. Shadowland is now only a 186-seat theatre.
The results are amazing. Without sacrificing the venue’s original time-trippy Art Deco design, the modernized auditorium, with its intimate semi-thrust stage, takes full advantage of its wide-but-shallow, slightly curved dimensions. Simply put, there is nary a seat in the house that isn’t primo. Even patrons seated in the back row are within 35 feet of the stage. You can see every crinkle in an actor’s bemused facial expression, and the acoustics are great. The new seating is comfortable, the lighting and sound and climate-control systems state-of-the-art. Everything looks and feels fresh and new, in a ‘30s sort of way.
So much for the shiny packaging. What matters most, of course, is the content. And here too, at Shadowland you get Manhattan quality at upstate prices. The theatre is committed to casting only Actors’ Equity union members in its shows, and well-known names are often to be found on the playbill. As a result, the productions are far more professional than one usually expects from not-for-profit “community theatre.”
An excellent case in point is the show that just opened to a packed house on July 12 and will run through August 4: Boeing Boeing, a classic ‘60s-era sex farce, written by Marc Camoletti and translated into English by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans, whose 2008 Broadway revival got nominated for a Tony. Burke himself directs the Shadowland production. It’s one of those frantically fast-paced comedies where doors keep slamming as one character arrives in a tizzy just as another stalks off.
The premise is that an American self-styled playboy named Bernard (David Mason) keeps a swinging bachelor pad in Paris, where he entertains flight attendants working for three different airlines – or stewardesses, as they were known back then – on different days of the week. Each one has her own key to the apartment and thinks that she’s engaged to marry Bernard. He relies on their conflicting flight schedules and the formidable cleaning skills of his long-suffering French maid Berthe (Kathy McCafferty) to keep them from ever crossing paths or detecting evidence of one another’s visitations.
This fool’s paradise is doomed, of course, as advances in jet engine technology speed up the arrivals of Gloria (Leigh Poulos), the American, Gabriella (Jen Burry), the Italian, and Gretchen (Andrea Bianchi), the German. Everything starts to fall apart the same day that a nerdy former schoolmate of Bernard’s, Robert (Chris Daftsios), drops in for a visit en route to a family gathering in Aix. Somehow it becomes the hapless, clumsy Robert’s task to herd the women into different rooms and make up excuses for why their mutual fiancé has “just stepped out on business.” And even more improbably, somehow the three women begin to discern (and cultivate) hitherto-unsuspected charm in the nerdy friend, just as the formerly suave Bernard degenerates into a blithering nervous wreck amidst the ever-accelerating chaos.
It’s a challenging play to stage successfully, blocking being complicated and timing critical; but the actors’ level of professionalism passes the test with flying colors. Chris Daftsios is stone brilliant at physical comedy. McCafferty wasa standout, with her exasperated Gallic shrugs, scowls, snarls and Café Boeuf-style accent.
Brittany Vasta’s set design evokes the Jet Age of the mid-‘60s most effectively, with lots of white paint, patterns of repeating semicircles and a sunken living room that would have done any wannabe seducer proud back in the day. Everything works together beautifully, and the gloriously silly, breakneck-paced goings-on had the audience in stitches pretty much nonstop.
Tickets to Shadowland only cost $35 for Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening shows beginning at 8 p.m., and $30 for 2 p.m. Sunday matinées. Boeing Boeing runs every weekend through August 4, and will be followed beginning August 9 by The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns, a sequel to the girl-group musical that was one of the biggest hits of Shadowland’s summer 2012 season.
To purchase tickets or obtain more information, call the box office at (845) 647-5511 or visit https://www.shadowlandtheatre.org.
Boeing Boeing, through August 4, Thursdays/Fridays/Saturdays, 8 p.m., $35, Sundays, 2 p.m., $30, Shadowland Theatre, 157 Canal Street, Ellenville; (845) 647-5511, https://www.shadowlandtheatre.org.