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Summer Shakespeare Festival

A view of the bell tower from the Vanderbilt Mansion courtyard. Photo by Cayla Rosenhagen

By Cayla Rosenhagen

Cayla Rosenhagen

Passing through the elaborate iron gates leading into the Vanderbilt Eagle’s Nest estate, visitors are swept back through time to a decade long gone. Guests are immersed in the decadent Gold Coast era of Long Island’s history. 

For many years, the Eagle’s Nest mansion and the rest of the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium in Centerport have been one of my favorite locations to explore. My family and I are frequent visitors. On July 16th, we had the pleasure of returning to the Vanderbilt property to attend the 31st annual Shakespeare Festival.

Eagle’s Nest, a 24-room Spanish Revival mansion, was constructed by famed architects Warren and Wetmore by order of William K. Vanderbilt II, great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1910. In 1950, the estate and grounds were transformed into an education center, inviting the public to come visit and live like a Vanderbilt.

On the evening of our visit, Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” was being performed by the Carriage House Players in the grand, cobblestone courtyard situated in the middle of the manor. Arriving early to picnic on the back garden terrace, we indulged in delectable take-out from a local café. We set up our lawn chairs by the fountain, where we had a breathtaking vista. Across the well-manicured, grassy slopes, Northport Bay stretched calmly between us and the peninsula of Eaton’s Neck. It was a clear evening and the Sound with Connecticut beyond it was in perfect view. Robins foraged nearby and swallows practiced their aerial acrobatics overhead.

Shortly before the play began, we gathered in the courtyard with several dozen other audience members to take our seats. The courtyard, an ideal setting to watch one of the Bard’s most beloved plays, was illuminated by intricate iron lanterns and string lights overhead. Lined with garden beds of vibrant flora, the space radiated with Mediterranean splendor. The half-moon shone brightly over the terracotta-roofed belltower above the portcullis entrance. 

The play itself was a joy to watch. The actors truly enraptured the wit, humor, and magic of Shakespeare. By the time the show ended with an extended applause, the sun had set, and the stars appeared above us in the twilight sky. As the other guests exited, I took a moment to myself on the back patio, soaking up the enchanting moment. In a dream-like state, I watched the glimmering fireflies over the lawn and gazed out upon the water. Sailboats, only visible in the night by their multihued lights, paraded by with chiming bells. A faint melody of whimsical, classical music filled the salty, sea air. As I left the fairytale-like setting, I knew I would be back there again soon.

Throughout the summer, the museum hosts live theatrical performances in the courtyard every Wednesday and Friday at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 7 p.m. This year, the featured plays are “As You Like It,” “Titus Andronicus,” and “Richard III.” Tickets for the shows are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and children. In addition to plays, the Vanderbilt grounds also host a variety of other events. These include tours of the mansion and museum exhibitions, magic shows, concerts, art workshops, yoga classes, and a wide array of planetarium shows at the Reichert Planetarium for the whole family’s enjoyment. Please see their website, vanderbiltmuseum.org, for more details.

Cayla Rosenhagen is a local high school student who enjoys capturing the unique charm of the community through photography and journalism. She serves on the board of directors for the Four Harbors Audubon Society and Brookhaven’s Youth Board, and is the founder and coordinator of Beach Bucket Brigade, a community outreach program dedicated to environmental awareness, engagement, and education. She is also an avid birder, hiker, and artist who is concurrently enrolled in college, pursuing a degree in teaching.

The Carriage House Players continue the 32nd annual Shakespeare Festival at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport with As You Like It, the classic pastoral comedy of mismatched lovers and mistaken identity. The play runs through August 1.

Evan Donnellan, executive director of the CHP, said, “The Carriage House Players are so excited to return to the Vanderbilt Museum Courtyard for our annual Shakespeare Festival! We cannot wait to entertain you.”

The festival continues with:

Titus Andronicus: August 8-29 (excluding 8/27)

Shakespeare’s first tragedy, a tale of ambition and revenge, comes to the Vanderbilt stage with a modern spin on the classic material.

Performances are Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm. Tickets: $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and children. Visitors must bring their own chairs. To order, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Visit www.carriagehouseplayers.org for more information.


A scene from last year’s performance of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Museum

By Sabrina Petroski

Come join the fun as the most beautiful words in the English language are given new life! In celebration of its 30th anniversary, The Carriage House Players will present “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Hamlet” for its annual Summer Shakespeare Festival at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport. The festival opens on June 29.

With a modern twist on two of the Bard’s most famous plays, performances will be held under the stars in the central courtyard of William K. Vanderbilt’s Eagle’s Nest mansion, one of the last remaining Gold Coast estates on the North Shore.

The festival was the brainchild of Frederic De Feis, who ran the productions through the Arena Players until his retirement. Upon his leave, De Feis passed the reins to longtime company member and protégé, Evan Donnellan.

“[The festival] started because Fred was looking for a space to perform Shakespeare outdoors,” said Donnellan. “He found the Vanderbilt courtyard and decided to use the space because of its atmosphere and architecture, which lends itself particularly well to Shakespeare.” As executive director, Donnellan, who was part of the company for 22 years, decided to rename the troupe The Carriage House Players to “better reflect our space” as they perform in the Vanderbilt Carriage House on the museum’s grounds.

“The Carriage House Players add a delightful dimension to the Vanderbilt Museum’s creative programming throughout the year,” said Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum, in a recent email. “Every July and August, their annual Shakespeare productions are a very popular summer attraction. Their shows, presented on our outdoor stage, are enhanced by the graceful backdrop of the estate’s century-old Spanish Revival architecture.”

Jacob Wright and Michael Limone in rehearsal for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

“The Shakespeare Festival has been a main event for Long Island for three decades now and we are proud to continue the tradition,” added Donnellan who said the group chose “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” because the timeless story of love gone awry, complete with mischievous fairies and bumbling actors, will create a hilarious evening of theater filled with charm, magic and grand romantic gestures. The play will be directed by company member Christine Boehm, who has previously graced the stage as Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet” and has directed recent productions of “The Woman in Black” and “Precious Little.” 

“With an aesthetic largely inspired by the Celtic Punk movement popularized in the 1980s with through lines discussing politics, pride in the working class and, most importantly, drinking, our ‘Midsummer’ will focus on the text’s most largely identified theme as the title suggests — a dream,” said Boehm. 

After “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” The Players will present Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, “Hamlet.” Donnellan says “the classic tale of revenge, loss, and the thirst for power, complete with glorious sword fights and ghostly visitors, will transport audiences back in time and put them right in the head of the Danish prince as he struggles to determine what is wrong and what is right.” Directed by company member, Jordan Hue, who directed “Macbeth” and “Much Ado About Nothing” at previous festivals, the show will be performed in the more classical tradition but with an emphasis on neo-futurism.   

For Donnellan, his hope is that this festival will appeal to wide audiences and introduce new theatergoers to the Bard’s genius. “Our goal is for audiences to embrace the old with the new while focusing on Shakespeare’s gorgeous prose and powerful storytelling.” 

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport, will host “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” from June 29 through July 29 followed by “Hamlet” from Aug. 5 through Sept. 2. Shows are held at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays and 7 p.m. on Sundays, weather permitting. Running time is approximately 2 hours. Guests are encouraged to arrive early and enjoy a picnic on the grounds before the performances. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or at the door. For more information, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org or call 631-854-5579.