ST. MARYS — Performances under the stars of works by the greatest writer in the English language isn’t the only reason to take part in the Flint Hills Shakespeare Festival.
Now in its fifth season, the community-organized event has grown into a family-friendly event that is part Renaissance festival and live Shakespearean theater.
What started as performances on a temporary stage erected near a green of the St. Marys Golf Course now involves a village of booths erected in a thicket of trees north of St. Marys accessible from 2nd and Mount Calvary Road with parking in a mowed pasture.
In the village, gates to which will open at 4:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, patrons will find concessionaires selling handcrafted items ranging from candles, jewelry and baked goods to original art, children’s toys and clothing. The festival food goes beyond hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza and turkey legs.
The menu includes smoke salmon fish tacos, hearty soups prepared in cauldrons on wood fires, lamb kabobs, made-to-order crepes and caramel apples. There are games and horse rides for children and live entertainment, such as an early music orchestra playing recorders and dulcimers.
Prices are kept family-friendly with a wristband good for the remainder of the festival going for $10 for an individual, $15 for a couple and $30 for a family. The festival continues through the play, which this year is Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy, “As You Like It,” which begins at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday.
An opening weekend performance was well attended with audience members bringing lawn chairs and blankets for seating in a natural amphitheater with a large stage on which “As You Like It’s” forest scenes seemed natural extensions of the trees growing behind the performance area. The costumes are also expertly crafted, the stage well lit and the sound superbly amplified and balanced.
Andrew Clarendon, a Naval Academy graduate who teaches at St. Mary’s College, again directs the cast that includes both college students and adult actors seen on other stages, such as Topeka’s Thomas J. Hughes Jr., who plays the court jester Touchstone with comedic aplomb that often drew the biggest laughs of the production. And laughter, being the true measure of any comedy — Shakespearean or something more contemporary — was evident throughout the evening, particularly as the play continued and ears became attuned to the period dialogue.
The cast was uniformly good, especially the lead couple, Rosalind (Audria Garno), with whom the earnest but tongue-tied Orlando (Nathanael Grieco) is smitten on first sight. When both are banished to the Forest of Arden, they meet again only Rosalind had disguised herself as a man with her true identity known own to Touchstone and her cousin Celia (Kathleen McCarthy).
In Shakespearean tradition, there are some love triangles created as Phebe (Clelia Young) desires Rosalind’s male alter ego, Ganymede, and spurns the love of Silvius (Patrick Murtha). Touchstone desires a goat keeper named Audrey (Emilie Jordan) who has a suitor named William (Thomas Stamos). Celia is attracted to Oliver (Gerard Pryor), but he is feuding with Orlando, his brother. But siblings are reconciled and a quadruple wedding ends the play.
The cast also includes Adam (Patrick Ard), Amiens (Matthew Baer), Charles (Aaron Bergerding), Second Lord (Thomas Bryan), LeBeau and Sir Oliver Martext (Eliot Childs), Second Page (Edmund Clarendon), First Page (Sebastian Clarendon), Duke Senior (Jeffrey Dagenais), Denise and a Shepherdess (Jessica McAtarian), Duke Frederick (Benjamin Moats), Jacques de Boys and a First Lord (Joseph Skees), Corin and a Priest (Peter Stamos) and Shepherdess (Kimberly Thibeault).
Rafael Rodriguez plays Jaques, a melancholy lord attending Duke Senior, who delivers one of Shakespeare’s most famous monologues, which begins “All the world’s a stage.”
Organizers of the Flint Hills Shakespeare Festival have certainly created their own inviting world where it is easy to escape one’s troubles, have a satisfying meal and enjoy the great pleasures of the Bard in a rustic setting. It’s worth the drive.