Ye olde days, sans plague

September 05, 2006|by RYAN WILLARD

Ever wish you lived during the Renaissance period? You know, with the whole chivalry code and all that? Well, the best you can do is go to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. They have everything: food, weaponry, medieval clothing, human chess and great improv actors.

It's exactly like the early Renaissance, minus the terrible diseases roaming the streets.

I went with three of my friends, one of whom is Pulse photographer Ana Jantz. The faire looked promising immediately, with rock walls surrounding the whole outside of the Shire, as the village is called.

As the four of us waited for tickets, we got our first taste of the residents of the Shire. A young woman dressed in Renaissance garb climbed onto the rock wall above us - nine feet above our heads - and "entertained" us. She said she was a French baker and insisted that she was not a spy for the French. She engaged people, asked questions and had a tremendous accent. I was already having a good time talking to her before actually getting into the faire.


We got a map of the Shire and began exploring, taking in the atmosphere and looking at the shops, the people, the actors, the food.

We stumbled upon the Mud Palace, a theater venue featuring a mudpit. The palace was hosting the play "Romeo and Juliet (The Dirty Version)." It was a "mud show," which is like the actual play, only with lots and lots of mud. My friends and I are actors, and we like a good Shakespeare play once in a while, so we watched.

Although following the outlines of "Romeo and Juliet" rather than the script, the play was funny and flowed well. There were only three characters, one being Mud Palace owner Mark Sullivan, who has owned the Mud Palace for 11 years and writes all the plays.

Sullivan produces three shows and a skit: "Romeo and Juliet (The Dirty Version)"; "Anty and Cleo," about Mark Antony and Cleopatra; "The Muddy Wives of Windsor"; and "The Wedding."

After the show we explored some more. We discovered that a daredevil show was taking place not too far from where we were. Although being a short distance away, we got lost twice in the vastness of the Shire. Finally, after some effort, we found the man we were looking for.

The daredevil's act had a story line, but it wasn't really the main purpose of the show. The main purpose was the fact that he swallowed a sword, breathed fire, walked on glass, and laid in a bed of nails, twice, once with a girl on his stomach and the other time with a cinder block crushed on him. How can you criticize a show with all that?

After that we walked around some, and saw some live gypsies doing a dance on a huge stage painted like a chessboard. There were four gypsies, each with their own weapon to dance with. They danced to the beat of four drummers. The show was quite good, and I was fixated on how those gypsies moved their stomachs so well.

The last event we saw was a human chess match. We sat down for an hour or so to watch the real live chess match, entitled the "War of the Roses." But it was not just a chess match. It was part of the daylong story line involving intrigue between Queen Elizabeth's court and French royalty. The plot of the chess match went like this:

Two men, one French and one English, were dueling for the queen's hand. They were required to do a series of three tasks to qualify to marry the queen. This chess game was the second task; the first task was won by the rather conceited Frenchman.

There was one difference between this chess game and a regular chess game (besides the fact that all the pieces were costumed Renaissance characters). If a piece from one side tried to capture a piece from the other side, the two pieces would fight until one yielded to the other.

This chess game was quite entertaining. The actors were energetic and loyal to their side. They split the audience in half; each half was encouraged to holler chants at the other side. The Englishman won (as expected, being that they would have to conduct a third event - a joust - already scheduled to decide who would win the hand in marriage). Alas, we didn't have time to see the last event, on account of the hour-and-a-half ride home.

We had just enough time to look at some of the shops. The Shire was simply massive. Basically, it has everything a good medieval freak is looking for - jewelry, gowns, hats, medieval-style food and drink, leather bodices, and so much more. I bought an umbrella and fan for a special someone.

After that we were in a bit of a rush. We had to hurry up to find our way out. We saw the entrance and noticed the French baker girl was still up in her post.

Overall, we had some good laughs out of it, interacted with the actors and simply had fun. It was great to feel like you were in a medieval village - and it's a plus not worrying about the consequences of contracting the black plague.

If you go ...

WHAT: Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through October

WHERE: Mount Hope Estate & Winery, on Pa. 72 near the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

COST: Adult one-day pass, $26.95 ($21.95 purchased online in advance); child one-day pass, $9.95 ($9.00 purchased online in advance)

DIRECTIONS: Construction at turnpike exit 266 near the Faire is causing severe traffic backups on high-traffic weekends. Here's an alternate route - it's about a two-hour drive from Hagerstown. Take Interstate 81 north to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Go east to Exit 247, then head east on Pa. 283. Drive about 13 miles to Pa. 772. Go east about five miles on Pa. 772 to Manheim. Turn left onto Pa. 72 and drive north about five miles. The Faire is on the right, just before the turnpike.

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