King Richard's Faire

Produced By Richard and Bonnie Harris Shapiro
Entertainment Directed by Micheal Colley
Carver, MA - Through October 20th

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

The eighteenth annual King Richard's Faire has settled into the permanent Renaissance Village it will occupy each weekend between August 31st and October 20th. The Tudor Village nestles in a fragrant pine woods off highway 58 in South Carver, Massachusetts. The Faire is a splendid family outing, enjoyable as much for the friendly crowd of visitors as for the entertainment provided by the professionals. It seems as if every year more people come in some approximation of renaissance garb, even if that only means wearing a long skirt or a turtleneck and vest instead of cut-off jeans and a rude-sloganed tee shirt. The hundreds of performers stroll about in character, of course, but they are rivaled by costume-cultists who are delighted to show off their skills for an appreciative audience, and by customers who rent fancy dress from the on-site shop. Gypsy, peasant, pirate, wench, Lord or Lady of the Court in velvet and pearls circa 1100-1700: the fantasies on display make the Faire a great place for people-watching.

Day-long festivities start at eleven in the morning. Trumpet-voiced Patrick English, who resembles the Elizabethan engraving of Marlowe's star actor Edward Allynn, presides as King Richard IX, with Barbara Burinski as his gracious Queen Katherine. During the course of the day, King Richard's Royal Court ---Chancellor Sir Percival (Richard Weber), Cardinal Claudio Stecco (Paul Stickney), Jester Heyo (Frank Dixon), and Sir Georald the Herald (Ira Korch) enact an ongoing episodic drama. This year's involves nostalgia for the Good Old Days of Chivalrous King Arthur's Camelot, before greed and degeneracy corrupted the manners and morals of the Court. King Arthur himself (George MacDonald) shows up, plotting with Morgan La Fay (Heidi Condon) to take over the Kingdom. This drama is punctuated with parades and pagentry, and chorus numbers pilfered from A. Sullivan and F. Lowe --- the Carver version is not one of the more authentic of the Ren-faires sprinkled about the country.

As always, the highlight of the Faire is the knightly tournament and joust on horseback by the Hanlon-Lees Action Theatre. However, the Fire-breathing Giant Dragon that made its first appearance two years ago and is featured in the Faire's advertising never showed up. This was a keen disappointment to my companion, the Young Knight, who had dressed himself up in tunic, helmet and breastplate, and had sword and shield at the ready. The Young Knight had been looking forward to seeing the Dragon again ever since he heard that he was going to this year's Faire. (Perhaps three hurricane weekends in a row proved too much for the scaly fellow?) But the stunt men who do the jousting are as thrilling as ever. When "our" champion, The Moor (Lionel Lee) galloped towards his opponent, splintered his lance and came crashing to the ground, and then struggled up to exchange blows with sword and battle-ax, my six year old Knight called out over the "Huzzah!"s of the crowd: "Is this beautiful, or what?"

Hanlon-Lees also perform a Stunt Show, "A Wedding at Ratinfats's", featuring pratfalls and fisticuffs. Other theatrical events on view at the Faire include an amateurish thirty minute version of "Taming of the Shrew", Just Desserts Fairy Tale Players, Village Gossips, Sturdy Beggars slopping about in mud, and an interactive children's show called "The Nature of Mercy" which involves enlisting a dozen or so violence-loving kids as seconds for a duel between performers Tawn Jones and Michael Yah. I won't vouch for the show's purported promotion of pacifism, but it certainly entertained the parents and provided the Young Knight with one of the highlights of his summer. He also had high praise for Merdwyn the Mediocre (Scott Payne)'s magic show, and Johnny Meah's sword swallowing. A new and anachronistic troupe is the Odaiko Drummers, a Japanese ensemble in the macho-martial style with a mostly female membership. They are quite wonderful, and the adults sat through their performance twice.

The animal show, which claims to include the world's largest collection of Big Cats: lion, tiger, liger (a cross between a lion and a tiger) leopard, and jaguar-- is a particularly popular attraction with both adults and children . But this spectacular show was reduced to a couple of playful lion cubs and one mellow king of beasts, because heavy rains have turned the floor of the animal cage into a dangerous swamp.

Jugglers, jesters, acrobats, dancers and musicians stroll about the Village while craftspeople hawk their handmade wares. Craftspeople at the Faire are eager to describe their techniques, some of which have been handed down though the generations. A working smithy where weapons are made is the biggest draw; but candles, pottery, sculpture, jewelry, leather goods, clothing, toys, metalwork and puppets are all on display. Food at the Faire is based on what might have been available in Elizabethan times, and it is of good quality, although pricey. Our group voted the Royal Onion the best dish, although one of our members maintains that the fish and chips should get top billing, on the grounds of its lethal authenticity. Mead, beer and wine are available.

The Faire is mercifully free of electronic amplification, so even though a dozen performances are going on at once it is possible to escape the sound of one while listening to another. This is a place where age-old theatre skills are practiced, and it is a real pleasure to see them bare and basic, without the aid of modern techno-wizardry.