By Leah Chiappino
An osprey lands on its nest on top of a bell tower located above the gate in the Vanderbilt Museum Courtyard as the sun sets over William K. Vanderbilt’s Eagle’s Nest mansion. The orange hues hitting the four walls make the Spanish Revival estate, one of the last remaining Gold Coast properties on the North Shore, glow.
It is the perfect setting for the Vanderbilt’s annual Shakespeare Festival, Shakespearean play readings by The Carriage House Players that are performed on an outdoor stage in the mansion’s courtyard. The tradition, which is celebrating its 31st anniversary, often puts a modern twist on the Bard’s classic masterpieces.
The current production of “Julius Caesar” chronicles the internal struggle of Brutus (Mary Caulfield) in joining Cassius (Nicole Intravia) to assassinate the Roman dictator Julius Caesar (Jae Hughes). Believed to have been written in 1599, it is one of several plays written by Shakespeare based on true events from Roman history.
Though it helps to be a fan of Shakespeare to truly appreciate this production, audience members can’t help but be drawn in by the raw talent of the performers.
Hughes as Caesar is particularly gripping and riveting. With each line carried out with such emotion and conviction, Hughes’ delivery leads the audience to forget the script comes from a Shakespearean play and forces them to believe they are being spoken genuinely in real time.
Christine Boehm directs a cast of 14 who all give excellent performances. This is especially evident during the assassination scene, which looks realistic to the point one may second guess whether or not the blood comes from the actors.
The costumes take the modern version up another notch in terms of quality, with Brutus sporting a leather jumpsuit throughout the entire production. Katie Ferretti as Portia, his wife, stuns in a classic Shakespearean gown, and her natural chemistry with Caulfield make for a perfect pair between the two, as does Elizabeth Sackett in respect to Hughes, in her role as Caesar’s wife Calpurnia.
Some modern lines and euphemisms are thrown in as well, such as the show opening with the dropping of a tarp sign reading “Hail Caesar” in street graffiti, and passersby flipping off Brutus as a sign of rebellion in one of the opening acts.
The cast also includes Airen Craig, Jess Ader-Ferretti, Erika Hinson, Zoe Katsaros, Brielle Levenberg, Teresa Motherway, Dana Tortora, Colleen Tyler and Gianna Zuffante.
With all of this, the true gem of the night is the experience the play offers. Arrive early to access the beautiful grounds of the estate before the show starts and bring a picnic dinner to enjoy on the lawn overlooking Northport Harbor, with views of Asharoken to Connecticut.
The atmosphere allows visitors to reflect on all Long Island has to offer, surrounded by some of the most stunning architecture in the nation, coupled with natural beauty. Ultimately, the performance, a fitting example of the rich arts and culture of the island caps off the ambiance perfectly, is a must-do summer activity.
The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport and The Carriage House Players will present “Julius Caesar” through Sept. 1. Performances are held Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for children. To order, visit www.carriagehouseplayers.org.