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Caption: On Saturday, Aug. 7, The Longpond Ironworks District hosted the Hudson Shakespeare Company's rendition of "Cymbeline". Laura Malone (left) plays the leading lady Immogen disguised as a male page. Cedric Hill (right) takes the role of Cloten her intended suitor.
"Cymbeline" performed at Ironworks
By Sharbari Bose
A dark mass of clouds hovers ominously over the Stone Double House as Imogen meets her two long-lost sisters (changed from original), reunites with her husband and embraces her father, the British king.
"I'm trying to blow the clouds away," says Rob Sparkes, former Friends of Long Pond Ironworks (FOLPI) president, while standing in front of the 18th century cobblestone building.
His tactic doesn't work. The traveling Hudson Shakespeare Company is in the middle of "Cymbeline's" most climactic scene when the umbrellas flip open around 8p.m.
The rain fell steadily on Saturday night as the 12-member cast closed its final scene and bowed to 100 outdoor theatergoers. Still, viewers stood up from their lawn chairs to applaud the actors for a free two-hours show staged in West Milford's historic ironworks district.
"I think that the fact people stayed throughout the rain is a tribute to the performance," said Eileen, a FOLPI member.
For the second year in a row; FOLPI invited the company to stop in town during its "Shakespeare in the Parks" summer tout. The rotating group of at least 15 actors travels five counties to perform four Shakespeare titles every summer.
Last year, the company put on "Henry V." This year's show, "Cymbeline," was a lesser-known work that focuses on a test of "chastity" and an intricate, but humorous plot. Daughters are stolen, lovers are separated, and royalty is fooled. It's classic Shakespeare.
The Passaic County Cultural and Heritage Council sponsored the event in part with funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment of the Arts.
FOLPI's overall goal is to bring more locals out to the district and show the importance of preserving it. The group formed in the 1980s to lead guided tours, put on Civil War era skits, and above all, raise funds for maintenance.
The Department of Enviromental Protection's Parks and Forestry Division financed the state-owned district in 1992 with $250,000 New Jersey Historic Trust Fund grant. Since the division is no longer eligible to received additional grants. FOLPI is applying on its own to earmark a $32,000 matching grant for site management.
The trust will contribute $24,000 and FOLPI's responsibility is $8,000.
We're just talking about restoration, not renovation," said Julia Held, a six-year member who sits on the group's fund raising/grants committee.
She estimated that renovating the two dilapidated furnaces, a Civil War era icehouse, and a 19th century country store could cost $1 million.
In the mid-1700's, the 175-acre district was bustling with active furnaces and a community of welders. Beth Timask, FOLPI's current president, said that traveling theater groups used to performd at Long pond until workers left the iron industry in the early 19th century.
"So we thought it was only appropriate that a traveling company perform here," she said. "And this time, we had a larger crowd than last year."
Though Saturday night's performance wasn't heavily advertised and Shakespeare's tragicomedy "Cymbeline" isn't one of his well-known works, the audience came in packs and left satisfied.
"We never heard of the play before," said Bob Bartilucci, a 27-year resident of West Milford. "But I really think the scenery was a natural setting for everything. It completed the experience."
Apart from the pleasure of being outside, residents applauded FOLPI for delivering a dose of much needed culture to this Highlands community.
Marcy Harris, a resident for 31 years, said plainly that, "West Milford needs more of this. It was a nice way to spend a summer evening."
Founded in 1992, the traveling Shakespeare Company grew out of Hudson County's urban setting with young, city-bound actors yearning for a jab at the classics. In 1998, the group was incorported and began traveling beyond its local hub.
Specializing in outdoor performances, the company spends most of its time in city parks flanked by car traffic and kids on skateboards. Cast members find occasional respite in greener enclaves, like the calm ironworks district.
"We've performed on grass, gravel, inside and outside," said one actress. "But this place has a great spaced for our shows. It's very picturesque. We use it a natural set."
While the environment does authenticate the performance, it can also be strenuous. The actors operate in five counties - Hudson, Union, Passaic, Essex, and Bergen - and rarely have any dress rehearsals.
Its good training for young actors that perform four summer plays at 13 to 15 different venues, said the director.
"When you're outside, you have to deal with so many distractions," said Jon Ciccarelli, also an actor. "So, the performance is different every time we do it.
But the common thread between each show and each actor is an obsession with a British playwright.
L. Robert Johnson, the company's founder and also a director is the other half of the odd couple. Black and 60 years old, Johnson says Ciccarelli, is an unlikely partner with a likeable passion.
"Jon probably knows Shakespeare's underwear size." Johnson said. "And I've read all his plays except maybe one."
The company rehearses three days a week during the summer season, but also travels during the winter as well displaying modern titles. When the backdrop is made of suburban stone an no city metal, the cast can breathe a little easier.
It's always a blast being up here because it's different than any unusual setting," said actor John Trigonis.