Sunday, July 20, 2008

Times-Dispatch: "Henry IV Part 2" is "another knockout production"

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Shakespeare troupe offers a fun time with Henry IV
Drama, comedy keep audience involved in Agecroft production
Sunday, Jul 20, 2008 - 12:08 AM

If the staid Tudor presence of Agecroft Hall is too tame for you, check out the roller coaster they've installed.

It's called "Henry IV, Part 2," and it's another knockout production by Richmond Shakespeare Festival.

Having brought us the first two plays in the Henry IV story--"Richard II" and "Henry IV, Part 1" -- we're up to the 15th-century moment in which Henry is dying, worried to be leaving his kingdom to his wastrel son, Prince Hal.

Hal has been hanging out with the hilarious but shady Falstaff, though in Part 1 he stepped up and fought the rebels who sought to wrest England from Henry.

Part 2 veers between the high drama of the continuing political rebellion and the low comedy of Falstaff and the thieves and prostitutes in his orbit. It's a kind of emotional whiplash, and it's exceedingly fun.

The nominal leading roles -- Henry and Hal -- are not so large, though David Bridgewater's Henry has a marvelous scene late in the play.

As Henry berates his son, believing Hal is eager to become king himself, Bridgewater's face seems to take on the hollows of a dying man as he blasts Hal with the last gout of power left in him.

Phillip James Brown is back as Hal, and he doesn't have too much to do here, but he is powerful in the role. Happily, Daryl Clark Phillips returns as a bigger-than-life, rollicking Falstaff, whose version of a Shakespearean soliloquy is a worshipful discourse on his favorite booze.

And although all the secondary players speak beautifully under Melissa Carroll-Jackson's verse coaching, there are standouts. Cynde Liffick and Jacquie O'Connor are hysterical as Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly, pursuers of Falstaff.

Joseph Anthony Carlson is scarily intense as the outlaw Pistol, and he steals focus as the revolting recruit Wart, while Brandon Crowder is breathtaking in the complete switches he makes between the three roles he plays.

Director James Alexander Bond manages this circus, using the stage masterfully and somehow making the emotional changes work. Once again, Rebecca Cairns, assisted by Ann Hoskins, has created rich and varied costumes, and Andrew Hamm provides a subtle musical backdrop.

Carlson did the excellent fight choreography -- and in case that's not physical enough, several cast members do an amazing all-tumbling pre-show.

Apparently Shakespeare thought his audiences couldn't take their history without a good dose of laughs. "Henry IV, Part 2" turns us all into satisfied groundlings.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Now Playing: "Henry IV, Part 2"

Preview performances begin Thursday, July 17 for the latest installment in the History Cycle, Henry IV, Part 2, opening Saturday, July 19.

Beginning mere minutes after the events of Part 1 (performed last summer), the production features the returns of Phil Brown as Prince Hal and Daryl Clark Phillips as the incomparable Sir John Falstaff, and the addition of David Bridgewater as King Henry. The cast is a talented mix of Richmond Shakespeare Festival veterans and newcomers. It all happens under the direction of Master of Play James Alexander Bond, who has directed many of Richmond Shakespeare's best-received shows (Julius Caesar, Henry IV, Part 1, and Measure for Measure), and Master of Verse Melissa Carroll-Jackson, a remarkably gifted newcomer to the company.

Last summer's Part 1 may have been the most acclaimed production in Richmond Shakespeare's 23-year history, but you don't need to have seen the first part to appreciate the excitement, the hilarity, and the emotion of Part 2. It absolutely stands on its own, and is in fact even bawdier than its predecessor.

Performances are Thursday through Sunday nights at 8:00 through August 3. Visit our website or call 1-866-BARD-TIX for your tickets.

"Compleat Works" Returning for Encore Performance!

The wacky trio responsible for the Richmond Shakespeare Festival's hit production of The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) are returning for a one-night-only encore performance on Wednesday, July 30 at 8:00 PM.

If you are one of the unfortunate people (including me) who came out on Compleat Works' closing night only to have the show rained out after only fifteen minutes of hilarity, this is your chance to come see the rest of the ridiculousness. Jeffry Clevenger, LaSean Pierre Greene, and David Janosik--and, of course, Bob--are all returning to reprise their roles.

Visit our website or call 1-866-BARD-TIX for tickets to this special event.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Style Weekly: "As You Like It" is "charming, funny, unique, and unexpected"

From Style Weekly online:

The Dance Number Big Willie Didn’t See Coming

Even after a quarter century, Richmond Shakespeare keeps us guessing. Even if we already know who’s really a lady and who’s not.

“As You Like It,” Richmond Shakespeare’s most recent undertaking, is also its oldest.

Eleven years ago, the fledgling company cut into this play, already 400 years old, and have been fine-tuning it ever since. The play, one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed comedies, has all of the ingredients of a great production: girls masquerading as boys, love triangles (and pentagons, quadrangles and other assorted geometric shapes), an abundance of physical comedy and witty dialogue.

And typical of Richmond Shakespeare’s unwillingness to present the conventional play, directors Andrew Hamm and Julie Phillips (who refer to themselves as the Masters of Play and of Verse, respectively) incorporate thoroughly modern bits into the works, anachronisms dating back as far back as May 2007. Here the cross-dressing comedy includes a large song-and-dance number near the end in which the cast bursts into an impromptu rendition of the “Soulja Boy” dance.

The actors, for the most part, handle their characters beautifully. Sunny LaRose’s Rosalind is strong and endearing, and works well with the love-struck fervor of Orlando (Patrick Bromley). She also has great chemistry with Julia Rigby, who plays her cousin Celia; their scenes are filled with girlish glee and are enjoyable to watch. And as in most of Shakespeare’s plays, the court clown delivers many of the best lines; Adam Mincks’ brilliantly funny Touchstone is definitely up to the job.

But it’s Liz Blake who steals the show. Her role as Amiens in the play’s first half allows her to show off her lovely, lilting singing voice -- this is only topped by her portrayal of the crass shepherdess Phebe, who falls madly in love with the cross-dressing Rosalind, in the second half.

The production is not flawless, though. With the exception of the wrestling scene near the opening, the first half becomes dry whenever Rosalind or Touchstone is not onstage. And while the production’s several musical numbers work well for Blake, LaRose and Bromley each struggle during their few sung lines.

But “As You Like It” is a charming, funny production that bears the unique, often unexpected flavor that Richmond Shakespeare has spent 23 years stewing.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Last night just after intermission, the opening performance of "As You Like It" was rained out. It followed an initial pause due to lightning (closer than we'd like), during which the audience filed dutifully into the inner courtyard and lobby. We then resumed performing, but not ten minutes later the clouds opened: sprinkles turned into light rain, then became an actual, honest-to-goodness, can't deny it, plain old rain. I've seen stronger, but the stage manager's report listed it as "pouring rain;' it was enough to call the show for good.

I've often told people that there's no need to wonder at my mood in the summertime---just take a look at the weather. If we get more than light rain between about 8pm and 11pm any Thursday through Sunday evening, I'd tell them, you know I feel terrible.

With so much work going into both our performances and our audiences anticipation, picnic preparations and excitement at coming out to the Festival, it's always disappointing to get rained out.

But then I remember Robert Henry the fifth.

Robert Henry first started coming to the festival at two and a half years old, at a performance of Henry V, (of course) and has been out with his family to see each summer since. A few years back, during a rainout pause, when Robert Henry must have been about 6, he really wanted the show to go on. In Agecroft's inner courtyard, where the rainwater collects a bit toward the drain, he began a barefoot 'anti-rain' dance, chanting at the top of his lungs, "NO MORE RAIN, NO MORE RAIN."

There's an excitement to the crowd all moving together from the Courtyard Theatre, gathering in the lobby and drying off---then there's more coversation and socializing while our dedicated crew attacks the stage and dries it for the actors; we often use a blower to push the majority of rainwater off the seats.

If the weather arrives during pre-show activities, the Festival Young Company typically comes into the lobby to perform excerpts of Shakespeare for the patient guests. The FYC are high school performers, who stroll the grounds nightly between 7 and 8pm performing for picnickers. Their fantastic costumes are designed by the fabulous Julie Wilson.
So it's in that spirit that I approach rainouts---I watch our youngest patrons. They will long remember the time they came out to the Festival and had to come indoors as a blustery storm cell passed over; they'll remember seeing young people, not too much older than themselves, performing in the lobbies and courtyards.

And with a little luck, they'll remember fondly the performances they saw, which resumed after the weather.
-Grant Mudge
"As You Like It" has five more performances: tonight, and Thursday through Sunday of next week. Artistic Director Grant Mudge was the company's original Orlando in the 1997-1998 season, and appears this summer in our season finale, "Henry IV, Part Two."

Friday, July 4, 2008

Times-Dispatch: "You'll Like It"

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The Shakespeare play at Agecroft--you'll like it


Midsummer may be nearing, but the peak of the summer theater season at Agecroft Hall has just arrived.

In the lovely Tudor courtyard, Richmond Shakespeare Festival's reprise of "As You Like It" is a laugh-filled, updated take on the Bard's comedy.

It's a reprise in two ways: The company opened with this play 11 years ago, and it did a rollicking five-actor version this past spring. Those five actors have returned in this production, along with director Andrew Hamm. Nine additional merrymakers join them to create a show that is full of contemporary style and plays hard for every laugh.

Yet with all the liberties taken, Master of Verse Julie Phillips keeps a steady hand on the language, which she tunes to a lovely, understandable vernacular that loses none of its poetry.

Hamm, for his part, contributes pleasant musical accompaniment, plays the two-line role of Hymen, and infuses the proceedings with all the subtlety of a Judd Apatow film. There's a strong physical component, whether comedy or combat (or spitting), and an especially clever use of upstage plays-within-the-play that enact some of the major speeches while they are delivered.

The story has two pairs of embittered brothers, one pair of faithful cousins, a clown, a melancholy thinker, a wrestler, servants and shepherds, and a trip through the Forest of Arden, where lovers find each other and things come to a happy end.

In lovely Rebecca Cairns costumes, and with well-designed lighting by James David White (who illuminates the outdoor space with seeming effortlessness), the simple set is enriched by humans playing trees, and the cast is augmented by stuffed animals. (It was hard to ignore the lively chipmunk in one of the trees.)

All the performances are delightful, although Adam Minks' Le Beau could have been reined in a tad -- but his Touchstone is hilarious and just this side of outrageous.

Sunny LaRose is the gender-switching Rosalind and Patrick Bromley her adoring Orlando; they are both a treat to watch, as is Julia Rigby as Rosalind's loyal cousin Celia.

Danny Devlin is an engaging Oliver, Orlando's cruel older brother, and Jeffry Clevenger is endearing as the old servant Adam and amusing as the shepherd Corin. Michael Dunn and Dan Summey make regal dukes, and Liz Blake is riotous as the adoring shepherdess Phebe. In smaller roles, Jay Banks and Jennifer Vick make pleasing debuts, and Jake Allard steals focus and hearts as the lovesick shepherd Silvius.

Frank Creasy gives the most impressive performance in two roles. As Charles the wrestler, he goes all-out physically, with pro-wrestling costume and attitude; and as Jacques, the melancholy courtier, he goes all-out emotionally, describing the seven phases of life and musing that "all the world's a stage." If the world were indeed a stage, I would be pleased to see Creasy on it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Now Playing: "As You Like It"

Last night saw the first preview performance of the Richmond Shakespeare Festival's As You Like It. The show previews again tonight (Thursday) at 8:00, then opens officially on Saturday. It's an abbreviated run; just two previews and six performances, closing July 13, so don't miss it.

It's been a unique challenge and opportunity for Master of Verse Julie Phillips and I to restage a very successful production. Questions abounded: How many moments from the spring production do we duplicate? Do we change things just for the sake of changing them? What different perspective would Julie bring to a show that I had already seen through a complete production process and run? And how would the addition of nine new actors change what the play looks like and what it's about?

Well, Julie and I working together is never a problem. We co-directed Doctor Faustus in winter 2007, and had a long-standing mutual admiration society established before then. Julie has great ideas that I would never have thought of; she is the perfect example of how the two-headed directing process can work. Where I see physical choices, she sees verbal, and where I think something is funny that no one else ever possibly could, she reins me in. It's a great partnership; I never have more fun on the directing side of the table as when I'm working with Julie. And the new actors are a special bunch, five seasoned veterans and four apprentices to create the unforgettable characters which give As You Like It its texture and charm.

All five original actors have returned: Sunny LaRose's Rosalind, Patrick Bromley's Orlando, Julia Rigby's Celia, Frank Creasy's Jaques and Charles, and Adam Mincks's Touchstone and LeBeau all have a chance to live again, and to breathe a little more deeply now that the actors don't have to play all the other characters as well. The new actors have freely reinterpreted their roles: Dan Summey and Michael Dunn as the good and evil dukes, Liz Blake and Jake Allard as Phebe and Silvius, Jay Banks and Jennifer Vick as William and Audrey, Danny Devlin as Oliver and Sir Oliver Mar-Text, Cabell Neterer as Dennis, and Jeffry Clevenger as Adam and Corin all bring very different stuff to the table.

We've also added to the music. Jake Allard on drums and Todd Borden on bass round out the new Festival trio: Liz Blake and the Caliband. The play begins at 8:00, but the show starts at 7:30 with a preshow mini-concert and impromptu love poetry by Pat, Danny, and Adam.

Lighting designer J. David White has done a wonderful job establishing the beautiful dappled light of the forest of Arden, and Becky Cairns' and Annie Hoskins' costumes are a wonderful expansion of the already-gorgeous palate from spring. The trees are a personal favorite. Will Hankins and Agecroft's Richard Moxley have built some wonderful two-sided benches to delineate city from country. There are even a couple treats for Star Trek fans in there, as well.

What could be more charming than Shakespeare's most romantic play after a picnic on the grounds of Agecroft Hall? If you saw the show in April, you owe it to yourself to come out to the Richmond Shakespeare Festival for what we've been calling As You Like It 2: Like Harder!