The Further Adventures
of Oberon, Rosalind, and Malvolio
by Willa Johann
Hamptons Shakespeare Festival has welcomed scores of talented actors into its ranks, and they have traveled far and wide since their summer days performing under the eastern Long Island sky.
When Richard B. Watson remembers his three summers in Montauk, there’s one moment in particular that rushes back. “I was on top of the tower one night,” he says, referring to his role as Oberon in the 1997 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “and the fog rolled in.” He and the actor playing Puck were making mischievous, magical plans together on a roost high above the ground, clutching and manipulating a prop skeleton, when fog filled the stage, creating towers of eerie, enchanted light. “I remember it being so perfect,” Richard says. “Just being up there, doing the lines, surrounded by fog, you could look straight up and see the stars in the night sky. It was a magical summer.”
Since his last appearance with HSF, in 2002 as Leontes/Shepherd in The Winter’s Tale, Richard has performed all over the country at repertory theaters from Sacramento to Orlando to Pittsburgh. He has played Caliban and Sherlock Holmes, George in What’s Eating Virginia Woolf, Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, and Zach in A Chorus Line, a role that terrified him and forced him to join serious dancers on stage in gold lamé and top hats for an elaborate routine. The musical roles are new to him and have opened doors. “I’m not a Broadway singer,” he says, “but I’m capable with language and directors along the way have helped push me toward musicals. It’s blossoming for me. I’m the wild card at auditions. I don’t have the background, but I can act and I can get by and directors hear something different when I walk through the doors.&rdquo
His most recent project, the world premiere of a musical adaptation of Treasure Island at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, had him particularly excited. He played the pirate Long John Silver, complete with a scraggly wig, a tattooed body suit, and a peg leg. It feels great, Richard said, “to have a premiere role in a new musical. The songs are wonderful and it’s really well written. I’m very, very proud of this production.” Although the show ended April 1st, and he’s signed up for Henry VIII in Pennsylvania this summer, he’s optimistic about Treasure Island’s future. “There’s a lot of interest,” he says. “I have a feeling I’ll be involved with this production for many years to come.”
Richard B. Watson as Long John Silver in the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s “Treasure Island”
(Photo: Shannon Logan)
Amy Prosser spent two summers with HSF as an actress, as Rosalind in As You Like It and Luciana in The Comedy of Errors, and her four years as director of the company’s educational program brought her into contact with many East End school children and young aspiring thespians. Like Richard, Amy recalls the pivotal role nature played in those productions -- the distant hills, the howling wind, and the flocks of Canada Geese passing by above could all be incorporated into the play -- but she also remembers her students. The degree to which young children intuitively understood and could articulate the meaning of complicated passages was “chilling,” she recalls. She is proud of HSF’s school programs, and loves to hear news of former students, now in high school or college, who are familiar with and excited by their Shakespeare homework.
Avery Clark and Amy Prosser in “Rabbit Hole” at TheatreSquared
Since her time at HSF, Amy has dipped in and out of the theater world, balancing occasional productions with a demanding corporate job. In 2009, she reunited with As You Like It and The Comedy of Errors director Michael Landman for a production of Rabbit Hole, and recently performed at La MaMa, the renowned experimental theater in New York City, in a new show called Port Out, Starboard Home. “It was really special to get to perform at La MaMa,” she recalls, “and the best part was collaborating with the playwright and the other actors.” Improvisation was a central part of the rehearsal process, and dialogue the cast created often wound up in the script. “I really loved that,” Amy says. “I loved connecting with my cast mates onstage and saying lines we created. I have terrible stage fright, but when we shared those moments, it disappeared.”
Another highlight of that experience was the opportunity to work with her husband Joe Polhemus, a fellow actor and childhood acquaintance with whom she reconnected a couple of years ago. They live together in the San Francisco Bay Area and collaborate when possible. Currently, Amy’s excited about the readings they give at local senior centers and her first foray into playwriting. She has completed her first full-length play and produced a reading of it.
There were only hours left until show time when Demosthenes Chrysan got the news that Tony Shalhoub, his cast mate and the star of the recent Broadway production of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, had fallen ill. The short notice didn’t matter; Demosthenes would go on, playing the lead in the matinee and evening performances, a mere month after making his Broadway debut. There was no time to rehearse, but he was ready. “That was my job,” he says. “I prepared by watching the show a lot, by watching Tony’s performance a lot, by knowing my blocking, and, of course, my lines. When you’re understudying a celebrity, you never know when they’ll be pulled away. I knew the possibility was high, so I was ready.” His cast mates also helped him through the two shows. “They were sweet and helpful with me,” he remembers. “They’d gently take me by the elbow and move me if I was standing in the wrong spot. After the first performance, the entire cast lined up in the hallway offstage, and they all applauded me for having gone on at such short notice. I’ll never forget it.”
When Demosthenes first performed with HSF in 1999, he was still a long way away from Broadway. He’d come to acting late, and his career was just beginning, which made that summer and the two following seasons, in which he played Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing and Malvolio in Twelfth Night, an incredibly exciting experience. “It was like being at the most wonderful artistic summer camp,” he remembers. “It was my first foray into the professional acting world, and I feel very grateful to HSF for trusting me with those roles.”
Since then, he has built a wide-ranging resume of work, appearing in several independent films, and on such TV shows as 30 Rock, Louie, Damages, and Boardwalk Empire. He’s also continuously worked in theater and cites his experience performing at the National Theater in London in Blood and Gifts as a seminal turning point for him. He plans to keep pursuing work in all three media because the work required of each is so different. “You use different muscles when you’re in front of a camera than you do on stage,” he explains. “I look forward to doing [film] more and more.”
Having fallen in love with Montauk during his years with HSF, Demosthenes has his hopes set on returning for good one day. “It’s become a very special place for me, very relaxing,” he says. “It’s my life’s goal to get a little hut there and retire.”
Willa Johann is finishing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the University of New Hampshire where she teaches writing and composition.