The other night, I was seated low on the left side of the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheatre in Central Park for a performance of Kentucky Shakespeare’s bluegrass-infused adaptation of “As You Like It.” This is a production that is really putting the “Kentucky” into Kentucky Shakespeare by setting the play in 19th century Kentucky and setting Shakespeare’s song lyrics to music penned by Louisville songwriter Aaron Bibelhauser.

In one scene, a banjo-playing jester named Touchstone (Gregory Maupin) enters from the corner of the stage, wearily carrying a woman in disguise named Celia (Amber Avant) and accompanied by a woman disguised as a man (the character Rosalind, played by Hallie Dizdarevic).

When they entered, I heard a disturbance and turned to my right. From where I sat, I could see most of the 1,700 people in attendance. Every eye was looking at this comic spectacle. And every face was smiling.

If you weren’t there, you should have been.

I know there are people who think they don’t “get” Shakespeare. Or, even worse, there are people who think they can’t “understand” Shakespeare without having had a class in it.

That’s just plain wrong.

Under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Matt Wallace and Associate Artistic Director Amy Attaway this excellent acting company with a highly stable membership proves night after night that Shakespeare’s works are meant to be played in front of people, not just studied in classrooms.

“As You Like It” is a brilliant, gender-bending tribute to women’s intelligence, agency,power and wit. If you haven’t seen Dizdarevic, Avant, Jennifer Pennington, Abigail Bailey Maupin and Angelica Santiago (as Phebe, in a vexed romantic pairing with Silvius, played wonderfully by Crystian Wiltshire), you’re missing out on one of the most delicious treats of the summer.

J. Barrett Cooper plays Sir John Falstaff this summer in a play that many think should be named Falstaff rather than “Henry IV, Part 2). Falstaff is one of the greatest roles ever written and Cooper’s performance is a superb mix of lusty appetites, wistful regrets — and sudden turns of fortune. In this play, you can see Monte Priddy as Shallow (one of the Shakespeare’s great inventions). Priddy has been a vital member of Kentucky Shakespeare since 1961 and has played some 90 roles over those years.

Of course, the women in “King Lear,” Cordelia (Avant), Goneril (Abigail Bailey Maupin) and Regan (Dizdarevic) are players in one of Shakespeare’s most profound tragedies (with Jon Huffman in the title role). But the tragedy also highlights the virtues of nobility and loyalty under duress.

This week you have a few more chances to see these gems. Then the season wraps up with productions by The Globe Players (a high school troupe), Cincinnati Shakespeare and the Louisville Ballet. •

Kentucky Shakespeare
Festival in Central Park
Through Aug. 4
Central Park
1340 S. Fourth St.
Free  |  8 p.m.


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