Though Shakespeare’s plays go back some 400 years, and the language in them can seem odd to modern ears, they can still resonate with today’s audiences.
There are a couple of venues where people can go this weekend to see some of the Bard’s work on a summer evening and prove to themselves that Shakespeare wrote good stories.
Shakespeare on the Lawn at Kenmore will feature “Twelfth Night” this Saturday and Sunday under the direction of Fred Franklin.
Franklin said Kenmore audiences always get the Bard’s intention, even if they’re new to watching the old plays.
“Shakespeare dealt with the same problems we deal with,” said Franklin, who has been directing Shakespeare on the Lawn for 15 years. “They just look like they’re a long way away, but they really aren’t.”
Franklin said the lawn at Kenmore fills up with 150 to 200 people for every performance and people seem to like what they see and hear.
“A lot of people like it and the language is so beautiful. It is Shakespeare after all,” said Franklin, who retired as an English and drama teacher with Stafford County Public Schools. “They keep coming to it. They laugh when something’s funny, and they clap at the end.”
“Twelfth Night” is about the shipwrecked Viola who has lost contact with her brother, Sebastian, and takes up with the Captain. At the Captain’s urging, Viola disguises herself as a man under the name of Cesario. As Cesario, Viola has to match wits with a host of characters in the rollicking comedy with high jinks twists and turns that ends in two marriages.
Franklin said the all-new cast—featuring high school students and recent graduates from Stafford, Mountain View and James Monroe high schools along with a home-schooler—rose to the occasion and the comedy is funny.
“It’s interesting starting with a new group,” Franklin said. “I was pleased with how well it turned out.”
The shows begin at 7 p.m. and theatergoers can begin arriving at 6 p.m., Franklin said. Tours of the mansion will also be offered from 5:45-6:45 p.m.
“They’re all over the lawn and eating their picnics, leaning back on blankets or sitting in comfortable chairs that they brought with them and feeling good,” Franklin said. “The plays outside have been very popular.”
Franklin said he thinks people will like what they see, and the show will be worth the admission.
“I hope they truly enjoy it and get the jokes—and the seriousness of it—and just listen to it and like it,” Franklin said.
James Ricks, artistic director of Quill Theatre, will direct “The Tempest” for The Richmond Shakespeare Festival at Agecroft Hall and Gardens, on the James River in the Windsor Farm neighborhood in Richmond.
Agecroft Hall, a Tudor mansion that was built in Lancashire, England, in the late 15th century and moved, piece-by-piece, by ship to Richmond, is a perfect place to see Shakespeare, Ricks said.
“Arguably, it’s the kind of manor that Shakespeare’s company would have visited,” Ricks said.
While the theater world in Richmond would dearly love to be able to claim that Shakespeare played with his troupe at the house, it isn’t to be, Ricks said.
“We’d love to think that it might have had a brush with that aspect of history, but that lives entirely in the world of conjecture and fantasy,” Ricks said.
“The Tempest,” onstage through June 30, deals with both comic and tragic themes in this story about a sorcerer and his daughter, a monster and an airy spirit who all live on an enchanted island.
Ricks also said Shakespeare is accessible, once people give it a shot.
“I think it takes about 15 minutes before the ear starts to click in and fall into sync with the iambic pentameter,” Ricks said. “Shakespeare isn’t some lofty kind of high art that only the literati can appreciate. This is something that you’re going to enjoy, and we’re going to show you how.”
Ricks said Shakespeare brings to light what it means to be human, and he hopes he can bring that to his audiences.
“I want to do everything I can to show everyone a good time and introduce them to Shakespeare’s work—for those who aren’t familiar with it, and for those who are—and present it in as many exciting and bold ways I can think of,” Ricks said.
Ricks will also direct “Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr” for one night only on July 6.
The play, with three actors, takes a sideways look at all of Shakespeare’s plays in three acts and fills the house.
“We remount it every year and it’s always packed,” Ricks said. “It’s silly and it’s playful and it’s irreverent. We try not to have an unhealthy reverence the work that makes it impossible to approach as an audience member. There’s a balance of reverence and irreverence to the work, and the audience digs into that pretty easily.”
Chelsea Burke, who will direct an all-female cast in “The Taming of the Shrew” from July 11 to Aug. 4, said the mastery of Shakespeare’s language still enthralls people today.
“I think the magical thing is that we can still connect to these people 400 years later,” Burke said of Shakespeare’s characters. “That’s not the case with all pieces. Shakespeare tells human stories and a lot of those feelings are universal.”
According to Burke, the Richmond Shakespeare Festival is the highlight of the Richmond theater season.
“If you have been, you’ll go every summer. If it’s your first year, you’ll definitely be back,” Burke said. “It’s a great time.”
“Shakespeare under the stars is just awesome,” Ricks said.