Vineyard actor on stage in Boston


Brooke Hardman, founder of ArtFarm enterprises and a fixture in the Vineyard theater scene, has been smitten with Shakespeare since she performed in “King Lear” in the fourth grade. Since then she has gone on to play many of the Bard’s leading ladies (and a few men) in Boston, New York, Chicago, and at a number of established regional theaters throughout the country, as well as on the Vineyard.

Ms. Hardman, who has also taught Shakespeare to kids in Chicago and here through ACE MV, oddly ascribes the seeds of her success as a Shakespearean actress to a fortunate physical attribute.

“It’s something I’ve always connected to and something I’ve always loved,” she says, then laughing, she adds, “In the beginning I think I got cast just because I had the hair for it.” And one could say, without fear of argument, that Ms. Hardman was born to play Shakepearean characters, although her qualifications go beyond her bountiful curly tresses.

Right now the accomplished actress is starring as Imogen in “Cymbeline” with the Actors’ Shakespeare Project out of Boston and, in a stellar cast of professional Shakespearean actors, Ms. Hardman truly shines, bringing one of the Bard’s most powerful and likeable heroines smack into the 21st century and adding her characteristic sass and intelligence to an inspired production of one of the lesser known, but eminently accessible works by Shakespeare.

The eight-year-old Actors’ Shakespeare Project is a company without a permanent home, opting instead to stage their productions in oft-times imaginative “found spaces.” “Cymbeline,” which runs through this weekend, is being presented as theater-in-the-round in a temporary storefront space on Elm Street in Somerville. Although the material has not been altered, the production owes its contemporary feel to some experimental effects.

The actors, dressed identically in all white, accompany the action (and add some clever sound effects) with a variety of musical instruments. As well as serving as musicians, the seven cast members play dual roles and take turns announcing the scenes. There is no set, virtually no costumes, and very minimal props, but the production is still texturally rich, and the talented cast does an exceptional job of imparting the unparalleled humor, emotion, and wit of Shakespeare.

This is Ms. Hardman’s second outing with the Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Last winter she played Desdemona in the company’s production of “Othello.” Switching from actor to producer, she and ArtFarm brought some of her fellow “Othello” actors to the Vineyard last summer for two performances. She plans to reunite the cast of “Cymbeline” this summer for a similar event here.

“Cymbeline” is part of the company’s Winter Festival — a series of three plays, which will run for two weeks each. The festival is new this year, as is the introduction of contemporary work.

One of the other two festival shows, “Living in Exile” by Vineyard resident and Boston theater fixture Jon Lipsky, will be presented at the temporary space in Somerville from March 9–20. Mr. Lipsky’s antiwar play — a retelling of “Iliad” written in the late 70s — has evolved, following contemporary current events, through its lifespan of performances in New York, at the Vineyard Playhouse, and elsewhere.

Two members of the Actor’s Shakespeare Project, Paula Langton and Ken Cheeseman, who are colleagues of Mr. Lipsky, came to the Vineyard last month to take part (along with Ms. Hardman) in a staged reading of another of Mr. Lipsky’s plays, “Beginner’s Luck.”

Ms. Langton and Mr. Cheeseman were two of those who brought Shakespeare to Ms. Hardman’s fourth grade class in the Berkshires as part of an initiative to bring the Bard into the schools. Years later, Ms. Langton was one of Ms. Hardman’s teachers at Boston University. Her familiarity with members of the theater company was one of Ms. Hardman’s inducements in auditioning for “Othello” last year.

Ms. Hardman notes, “Hooking up with the Actors’ Shakespeare Project has been a great experience because it’s reunited me with some of my mentors and teachers.”