New York City, 1821. The American theater is barely 50 years old, and -- shock, horror -- a group of ex-slaves dares to perform the work of the Bard. Based on true events, Carlyle Brown's The African Company Presents Richard IIItells the story of the struggles of the first African-American theater troupe in the country. When the African Company audaciously presents an all-black production of Shakespeare's Richard IIInext door to a star-studded opening-night performance of the same play by an established white company, its actors get thrown in prison and the company grows up fast. Fluidly blending Shakespeare's language with that of the African-American vernacular of the day, Brown's script, with its social, political, and artistic message, is an intriguing, if laborious, portrait of America's early theatrical history. All five members of the charismatic cast give flowing, lyrical performances, but their efforts are undermined by the play's ponderous pace and some arrhythmic direction.