This year, the Shakespeare Festival starts with a bang thanks to refreshingly clever direction and talented comedic performances. See The Comedy of Errors at Agecroft, and go home happy.
Richmond Shakespeare has come a long way. They’ve been around since 1998, taking the Bard’s works to the people year-round.
Agecroft Hall has come a long way, too. Five centuries (and counting) and 3,000 miles, to be exact. This venerable estate was built in the 15th century, long before tiny Will Shakespeare spouted his first couplet or cracked a ribald joke, and shipped off to the fertile banks of our James River in the 20th. It was reassembled, remarkably preserved, and unleashed upon a community of history-loving nerds like myself—people who think everything Elizabethan is hilarious.1
Obviously the perfect place for a Shakespeare festival. Richmond Shakespeare had the same thought and has been barding it up beneath the estate’s Tudor eaves for nearly two decades.
“This is something for those aforementioned nerds,” says you. “I’m holding out for some superhero sequels, which I will watch in the dark, unencumbered by healthy brain activity.”
You are so wrong! Yes, some Shakespeare is less than gripping. I admit it freely: those histories suck. But the comedies and tragedies? You know those are the basis for like a thousand of your favorite movies, right?
May I recommend The Comedy of Errors, which you can see Thursday through Sunday nights in the airy environs of Agecroft’s courtyard until July 7th? You can even picnic on the lawn and watch the sun go down as the Young Festival Company come around and serenade you.
OK, OK. I may have lost you there. But do not fear, Artistic Director Jan Powell’s professional company will get your attention. From the first, the small company do their duty with seriously funny timing and some, dare I say, genius slapstick. The play follows the classical unities, something Shakespeare didn’t always do.2 Keeping the action to one place, within one day, and following one plot, this play moves quickly and entertains with every passing minute. There aren’t that many minutes, by the way, it’s fairly short (two hours with one intermission).
The play centers around two pairs of identical twins, both separated at birth and both thrown into the mix with each other. Oh, hilarity ensues, all right. One twin’s wife wonders why the other twin won’t come home to dinner, while that twin creeps on the wife’s sister. Meanwhile, a goldsmith hands one a gold chain and demands payment later from the other. Centuries later, silent films took up this kind of absurd comedy and made it a Thing.
Because of its simplicity, and because this kind of mistaken identity farce is no longer a novelty to us sophisticated lovers of Eddie Murphy comedies, modern productions of the play depend heavily on memorable performances and whip-smart directing. This one’s got both. Molly Hood (Adriana, the seemingly abandoned wife) gets shouts of laughter throughout and clearly led the company, with both Dromios (John Mincks and James Murphy) backing her up all the way.
Director Steve Perigard makes full use of the powerful setting by employing windows, walls, and even the estate’s distant front yard (get a seat as high up as you can for full enjoyment). You’ll need to look sharp—beautifully costumed (thanks to Liz Hopper) characters can be spotted all over. My semi-reluctant date guffawed regularly and, this is the best compliment he can give, was surprised and disappointed that it was over so soon.
If you’re looking for a way to get into Shakespeare, a way to get your kid into Shakespeare, a way to bone up on your Shakespeare, a way to have an excuse to say “Shakespeare” a lot, or simply something to do that you’ll remember for a long time, hie thee hence.
Buy tickets to The Comedy of Errors online for $14 (kids) and $28 (adults). Arrive early to give yourself a free tour of the grounds. Bring a non-alcoholic beverage and have a seat on a grassy knoll and let yourself be entertained until the show starts at 8:00 PM. Seating provided.
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Photo by: Eric Dobbs