Friday. Romeo and Juliet opening night. The sendoff.
So the day finally arrived. June first. Opening night of the Richmond Shakespeare Festival at Agecroft Hall. All week the weather forecast was calling for thunderstorms Friday so I spent most of the last few days panicked about how we’d manage the sendoff in bad weather. But it seems that Prospero was on our side this time so the forecast cleared up Thursday afternoon so we were all set to open our summer production of Romeo and Juliet.
James and I had discussed a splashy, theatrical sendoff right after the show. So after curtain call, James took the stage and gave a short speech, allowing me time to sneak around into the courtyard and ride my bike up onto the back of the stage, just behind the curtain. Then James announced me and the stage manager cued up my theme music and when the curtain opened I rode my bike across the stage and down the ramp and out of the gates of Agecroft.
Riding off right after the show was fun, and it satisfied my love of spectacles but it did mean that I couldn’t hang around and say goodbye to my friends after the show, nor could I talk with the actors about how much I enjoyed their performance. Riding off, I was excited, but I started feeling lonely immediately.
The show was beautiful. There is a kind of magic that happens at Agecroft that doesn’t work anywhere else. I’d seen the original run in the spring at the VMFA, and while there were some elements from that spring run that I missed, I will always love an Agecroft show more than anything else. That’s my Shakespeare.
Claire Wittman as Juliet and Tyler Stevens as Romeo had the best chemistry of any Romeo and Juliet I’ve ever seen on stage. Claire was able to play Juliet’s vulnerability and youth without making her limp and weak. Her Juliet was certainly young and emotional and impetuous, but she was also determined, strong, and incredibly intelligent. Tyler Stevens brought a real sharp humor and wit to Romeo which saved him from the pitiful sad sack that he can sometimes become in production. Their relationship was much more believable when played by two actors with such wit that you could imagine their first bit of dialogue becoming a sonnet simply because they were smart enough to do it on purpose.
I started to make a list of my favorite performances from the cast and realized that I had more or less included everyone, so for brevity’s sake I should say that Friar Laurence, The Nurse, and Benvolio were played so effortlessly perfect that you’d have thought the roles were written for them.
James had the opening brawl between the Capulets and the Montagues include more or less the entire cast, with skirmishes between actors happening all over the stage and throughout the aisles. It was big and wild, and it gave a stronger impression of the way that the feud was spilling into the streets, causing chaos throughout the city.
Overall, James managed to find a great balance between the beauty of the love story between Romeo and Juliet and the chaotic, violent, ugly world of the feud between their families. It’s not an easy to create a production where one doesn’t become subordinate to the other.
Saturday and Sunday
I only rode a few miles out west that night, because I don’t love the idea of riding a big heavy bike full of cargo at night. I don’t feel as nimble or maneuverable so I’m more nervous than I would be on my normal bike. So I put the first ten miles on the trip and crashed out in the suburbs for the night.
The next morning, I got up, began packing, realized I had more supplies than I could pack, pared down my supplies, packed again, donned a cycling kit for the first time in my life, and headed west.
My first full day of riding was rough. Although I am used to long rides, I did all my training on my old bike, before I got my touring bike and loaded it with cargo. So it was a slow, frustrating ride up lots and lots of hills. I was moving at about 75% of my normal speed, and spent the second half of the trip in the rain. I arrived in Charlottesville soaked to the bone, exhausted, and discouraged.
I had originally planned to ride to Staunton today and stay with my friend Matt and see some shows at the ASC. But I got up early and texted Matt and he pointed out that it would be smarter for me to stay in Charlottesville for a couple days and come to Staunton later in the week. Given that it rained most of today, I opted to stay here and bike to Staunton Tuesday.
So now I’m hanging in Charlottesville for a couple days. I spent Saturday night with a wonderful couple, Lalin and April, and tonight and tomorrow I’m staying with Peter, a recent UVA grad. I’ll spend about half the day Tuesday getting to Staunton and then see three shows Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
I’m off to bed now. I’ll check in again from Staunton.