During last night's final performance of RSF 2008, I found myself wondering not only how many closing performances I'd seen at Agecroft Hall, but how many I'd seen overall.
Richmond Shakespeare has just begun its 24th year, just concluded its 11th summertime festival, and after a brief rest, will gear up for our 4th season downtown at 2nd Presbyterian Church. August 1 marked the beginning of my 13th year with the organization, a fact which still surprises me.
In that time, while other activities have precluded my seeing all the performances, I've certainly witnessed the majority, somewhere in excess of 300 evenings in the unequaled beauty of Agecroft Hall's grounds and gardens, looking out over the James River. Night falls, the stars come out---last night one shot across the sky---it's truly one of the most special places on earth.
In fact, last night was one of the best of all, with a large and appreciative crowd out for the closing of Henry IV, Part Two. The weather was unseasonably mild, with a cooling breeze and crystal clear sky. Lower than average temperatures meant for a wonderful evening, and after the patrons finished their picnics and ambled on into the courtyard theatre, the cast gave them one heck of a performance.
It hadn't been an easy birth---Henry IV-2 is a complex play both in psychological and dramaturgical terms. Its Elizabethan jokes need careful preparation to be understood, its many scenes need vibrant stage electricity to keep the momentum flowing.
I can't possibly list what thrilled me about all the performances of this sixteen-member ensemble, led by our now frequent guest director James Alexander Bond----there are moments I will treasure from each and every actor in that company. To list just a few: Cynde Liffick's vomiting into her purse as "Doll Tearsheet" (Indeed, all 3 productions had vomit jokes this summer---what can we say? It's an elite art), Zach Arnold's deep focus as Bardolph, the ruddy-nosed compatriot to Daryl Clark Phillips' rich, deep and satisfying Falstaff, Suzanne Ankrum---our warrior turned summer bird, the wild rhythm and dance of the "Rumorettes," the silly combat (which I love) of the Eastcheap Tavern, and of course most especially, the final scene between Prince Hal and King Henry.
It began early in the run: actors, dressers, ushers, box office staff, board members, anyone working the show would draw close, inching nearer to the stage to listen to David Bridgewater and Phillip James Brown go at each other in one of the most compelling scenes in all of Shakespeare. It's an epic scene, and as intimate as any father-son argument. The language roared through the clouds each night, and each audience was pin-drop silent in the moment before father embraced heir and, after a moment, said "Oh, my son."
People called it breathtaking, fabulous, and even "one of those moments in the theatre when you feel privileged to have been allowed in the same room while it was going on." They were right. These two actors were simply amazing.
If you missed Henry IV, Part Two I feel sorry for you---it was an incredible experience. The good news is, there's a final episode in the saga, one that you needn't have seen the first two to understand, but if you have---your enjoyment will be all the more rich. We'll stage Henry V next summer, and Phil will be returning to finish this first tetralogy in Shakespeare's History Cycle.
So, whether you were in the audience, on the stage, behind it, taking tickets or hanging lights, distributing posters or pouring champagne, thank you for joining us for the Richmond Shakespeare Festival 2008---thousands of you---we look forward to seeing you this October for our indoor season kickoff, Hamlet, and of course back at Agecroft Hall as soon as summertime rolls back around.
Do keep in touch and e-mail me with your thoughts---I try to answer as many as possible; it's firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until then, the closing lines of last night's performance are freshly in my mind, as we think of returning to this story---we start rehearsals in less than a year----about 8 months:
I will lay odds, that, ere this year expire,
We bear our civil swords and native fire
As far as France. I heard a bird so sing,
Whose music, to my thinking, pleas’d the king.