BWW Review: AS YOU LIKE IT at Quill Theatre: A Rousing Conclusion to Richmond's 20th Annual Shakespeare Festival

BWW Review: AS YOU LIKE IT at Quill Theatre: A Rousing Conclusion to Richmond's 20th Annual Shakespeare Festival
Photography By Aaron Sutten

Just to get this right out of the gate: the importance of maintaining Shakespeare's works in the public consciousness is, in my humble opinion, an all-out admirable and necessary duty among artists, teachers, writers, historians, and whomever else should need to step up and spread the word(s).

Even across nations and linguistic barriers, Shakespeare is more or less regarded as the greatest writer of all time, in any language.

It is with this observance that I perpetually commend Quill and the historic venue that is Agecroft Hall for persisting in putting up the Bard's folios in that they may further accrue in appreciation to our "River City" and beyond (geographically and generationally speaking).

Undoubtedly, for 20 years since the Festival's initiation, Richmond has been vastly fortunate to witness an ongoing plethora of works from the "Swan of Avon" that has benefited our (relatively) small but deeply earnest theatrical community beyond mere words.

I hope this diligence sticks for the foreseeable future.

And with AS YOU LIKE IT, director James Ricks has assembled a faultless cast to provide a dandy display of Elizabethan merriment.

Now, my personal requisite for going into any Shakespearean comedy is rather simplistic: is it funny?

Believe me; I've been subjected to unfunny adaptations of Shakespeare's comedies on numerous occasions where - and I'm not exaggerating - virtually no one in the audience laughed. This is, to me, the imperative cornerstone to his comedies actually working...

... and this production has thankfully laid in a solid, situational foundation to elicit a barrage of chuckles and guffaws.

In this whirlwind story filled with love triangles, clownish antics, cross-dressing, mistaken identity as well as a finely-orchestrated wrestling match to boot, this dedicated ensemble charges ahead with gallant rapt in precision to the inestimably-significant text.

CJ Bergin and Rebecca Turner are amorously believable as the pivotal lovers Rosalind and Orlando, with Rosalind's cousin/companion Celia played with cautious optimism by Jocelyn Honoré. Matt Bloch is ever-commanding as Orlando's dapper brother Oliver, marched by the oafish bravado of Tommy Ryan's wrestler Charles. And John Cauthen skillfully plays both Duke Senior and Frederick with diplomatic solemnity.

Some of the more humorous characters include Luke Schares' "Melancholy Jacque" as he breathes humorous cadences into every line he speaks. And the court jester Touchstone is well-played by John Mincks whose articulated moments are often-peppered with elaborate bits of brazen physicality.

And then there's Nicole Morris-Anastasi's Phoebe who... well... folks, she nearly steals the whole darn show! Phoebe is a brief but vital role that, in the hands of a lesser thespian, could realistically be mailed-in without much thought. But Morris-Anastasi uproariously imbues Phoebe with a polarizing torrent of rapacious gooiness for Turner's reluctant "Ganymede", to that of squirming repugnance towards the advances of Silvius (an amusingly starry-eyed Cooper Sved). It is a marvelous show of artistic alacrity from Morris-Anastasi who, incidentally, also serves as the show's choreographer.

Rounding out the cast are Taylor Lyn Dawson, Derek Kannemeyer, and Bill Blair in a myriad of roles that show off their individual marks of versatility - all of which is capped off with the omnipresence of accordionist Juan Harmon as he slinks his way around the action with tunes appropriate to the current mood. Additionally, the use of percussion instruments was an added bonus during the wrestling scene.

Further highlights include BJ Wilkinson's lighting that reflects the differences between the main locales of the Duchy in France to the Forest of Arden. Cora Delbridge's costumes further accentuated these traits with the Duchy's more formal wear versus the rustic attire of the Arden natives.

All in all, this is a charming telling of Shakespeare's pastoral comedy. Moreover, like so many of his works (and many other forms of drama), given the multiple plotlines, intersecting character encounters and complex dialogue, I would encourage future playgoers to read into the history of the play and its overall synopsis (which Quill does provide in their program). Repeated viewings could gain a more acute understanding as well - or, indeed, the weather could facilitate such a do-over.

On that note: since this is my first instance with covering a play at Agecroft Hall, I feel that a brief explanation of the venue is warranted for those readers who have yet to visit the estate.

Plays presented at Agecroft Hall are all performed outside; and should the weather become intemperate for an individual performance, then refunds or vouchers will be made available to the consumer. Yet, despite this naturally occurring inconvenience, Agecroft Hall is, more or less, a quasi-facsimile to the actual, open-air experience of viewing a Shakespearean play in his time.

Agecroft Hall began as a Tudor manor house built in the late 15th century in Pendlebury, England which, after centuries of disrepair, was dismantled and shipped by entrepreneur Thomas C. Williams to the developing Windsor Farms neighborhood of Richmond in 1926. After reconstruction and modifications to the architectural layout were all completed in 1928, Williams' will stipulated that, upon his death, the estate would thenceforth be run as a house museum.

Given this history of the transplanted period architecture, there are, at least where Virginia is concerned, few more quaint, picturesque, or even serendipitous spots to experience the mastery of Shakespeare's verbiage (side note: Richmond's very namesake comes from "Richmond Hill" in Richmond, London).

And given the present-day event setup at Agecroft Hall, complete with a thrust stage, multilevel seating, a gift shop and refreshment offerings, it is a formal presentation that I believe even the Bard himself would "tip is toque" in a gesture of approval.

Actually, I think he already did (wink, wink)...

"Comedies at Agecroft: A Sonnet of Appreciation"

Beest thee eager to partake in gladness

Then set thyselves boldly 'neath the night sky:

To engross in a play wrought not of sadness,

But of chortles rife in bumper supply.

Still, the weather could prove unbefitting,

And there art contingencies for such eves:

Thus patronage shalt be just requiting,

Be thee sound: the playhouse never deceives.

So come forth and bask in the humid air,

And delight in a picnic, should'st thou so chose;

Traipse through the gardens with delicate care,

Or savour a 'Snoball' at sweet Sara Lou's.

Treat thine eyes to a sight set to enthrall,

With these blithe makings here, at Agecroft Hall.

Bah - just kidding!

But the point of appreciation for Richmond's distinct theatrical destinations remains, and Agecroft Hall stands as an esteemed parapet to these local reinforcements of continued cultural exhibitions.

And Quill's AS YOU LIKE IT maintains this proud tradition with smiling faces both onstage and in the audience.

I hope this tradition continues for 20 additional years, if not more...

AS YOU LIKE IT is presented by Quill Theatre at Agecroft Hall through the 29th of July, 2018.

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From This Author Brent Deekens

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