Monday, July 23, 2007

Majesty, Magic and Mayhem at Agecroft Hall

Word on the street is that Henry IV, Part I may be Richmond Shakespeare Theatre’s best effort to date. I know plenty of theatre lovers who would fight for their own favorite, but it's good to see that this new entry is so clearly joined in the competition.

I’m ashamed to say I haven’t seen enough RST productions to assert which one may or may not be the best of all. But I can say this. Henry IV offers pleasures to spare, and if other productions have been better, then they must have been pretty sensational.

I love seeing theatre at Agecroft. I loved Henry IV, Part I.

I wish I were smart enough, or educated enough, to be able to watch Shakespeare and actually understand all the language. That’s a criticism of me, not of Shakespeare or any particular production—certainly not this one. Truth is, I fully understand about 50%—particularly if we’re talking about the histories and the tragedies.

In my youth, I used to hang on every word, trying to cogitate my way through each sentence. I learned long ago that that was just too exhausting. Now I let the language flow over me like beautiful music and through me like red wine, understanding all the words I can and feeling fulfilled by following the characters, emotions and story. That is fulfillment aplenty.

With this production, I was captivated. I still couldn’t understand every word, but I certainly understood the story. And the rest didn’t matter. There are four reasons why.

In alpha order, they are Phil Brown, Jack Parrish, Daryl Clark Phillips, and James Ricks.

I don’t want to take away from the many other fine actors on stage, or the capable direction and fight direction, or the beautiful setting, or Grant Mudge’s growing expertise as a producer, etc etc etc. But I don’t think I’ve ever before seen four such capable actors in a Shakespearean play in Richmond, VA. Unless maybe it was an As You Like It at VCU in the early 70s that may have starred, now that I think of it, Jack Parrish. Forgive me, Jack, if I’m wrong. The main thing I remember about that gorgeous production was a radiant Roxanna Prosser as Rosalind.

Anyway, all four of the gentlemen noted above knocked my socks off. Anyone who loves theatre in Richmond is CRAZY to miss their performances.

Phil Brown came over from England to play Prince Hal and I wish he would stay in Richmond forever. Are there any other roles you’re dying to play, Mr. Brown? Have your people call my people.

Phil is a good looking guy, and he fits the rake to champion character to a tee. He and Jack Parrish, who plays King Henry IV, have a wonderful father son chemistry, and he and Daryl Clark Phillips have an equally wonderful Hal / Falstaff chemistry. It starts out with Falstaff being the dominant force, leading Hal down the rosy path of debauchery, but then reverses in a really moving role-playing scene, when Hal begins to mature into the princely presence he will so fully inhabit by play’s end.

And then there’s James Ricks. I was prepared to be in a snit with James, because as I read the playbill before the show I noticed he failed to mention in his bio that he first came to Richmond to work at Barksdale, and that’s just how petty and persnickety I am. But about five sentences into his performance, all was forgiven.

In an ideal world, Hotspur should be a strapping lad, a physical equal to Prince Hal. At least in my ideal world. And James is not what one would call physically imposing. But once he started speaking, who cared. For my money, he completely mastered the language and, even when I couldn't instantly translate a 17th century sentence into my 21st century vernacular, I could read his inflections and his face like a book.

All four of these guys were terrific, and I selfishly hope they all four work at Barksdale sometime really soon. Three of them have in the recent past, and it's time for their return.

Before going, I want to say that the final fight between Hal and Hotspur was really well staged. It was gasp-worthy. If you don’t believe me, ask Jackie Jones.
I know how hard it is to assemble four such expert actors in one production. Thanks to Grant and everyone on the Henry IV team for a wonderful, rejuvenating evening.

--Bruce Miller

Photo captions: top center - James, Phil, Jack, Daryl, Grant; first right - Agecroft Hall; second right - portrait of King Henry IV


Frank Creasy said...

Bruce - I know you took down this posting awhile because some of the comments were overly negative. To any in the theatre community who follow this blog, here's something I'd like to point out: An artistic director who takes the time to compliment ANOTHER company's productions publicly is a rarity. It's true that Barksdale/Theatre IV's budget dwarfs that of other Richmond theatres, but NO one at Barksdale is getting rich and jetting off to Club Med based on their revenues. There's no compelling reason to praise other company's productions than it's simply true - and being honest and magnanimous is reward enough in itself. Generosity of spirit is not something we have TOO much of these days.

As an actor I love it when I'm in a production that's highly praised. Truth is, not every production can be the very best. Sometimes particular productions kick it up a notch or two, and I've heard this is true of "Henry IV Part I" (though I'll decide for myself when I see it later this week!) But I would propose that we all enjoy the spirit of not only cooperation but COLLABORATION that occurs in the Richmond theatre community. It's healthy for all theatres in town, and encourages more and more folks to enjoy the cultural enrichment theatre brings to our lives time after time.

JR said...

Actually Bruce, there are several references to Hotspur being a shorter man. "This infant warrior..." and "Mars in swaddling clothes".
Plus, I think it makes pretty good sense that a hotheaded maniac is shorter than your average "strapping lad". Look at history.
Sorry for not mentioning Barksdale, by the way...