Christopher Dwyer, who plays Amiens in "As You Like It," sings pop songs, accompanying himself on the guitar, joined in some numbers of John Kelso (Jaques and Charles in the play) on toy piano. Playgoers may be asked to chime in on "You Are My Sunshine" or jump up to do the "Alligator Shuffle" with cast members.

"We try not to hide from the audience," Bellomo said. "We're all here together, so let's acknowledge one another."

At the ruins, "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" is filled with audience participation, and the dynamic three-man cast — Scott Graham, John Thomas Miller (imagine Martin Short on speed), Frank B. Moorman — is adept at getting people to volunteer for crazy stuff.

Directed by Scott Alan Small, the production chomps into the manic, Monty Python-esque play, which treats a truncated "Titus Andronicus" as a disastrous cooking show with bloody body parts; an "Othello" as an un-PC rap; and "Macbeth" as a blur of elongated Scottish burr. Shakespeare emerges from the antics unharmed.

For undiluted Shakespeare, the company has created a fanciful staging of "Midsummer Night's Dream," given a carnival setting by Gallanar. That concept has been carried beyond the production itself. On performance days, a midway is set up on the knoll leading up to the stage area, a playful prelude to the fantasy of the play.

"As soon as you walk onto the grounds, you're experiencing it," said Lesley Malin, managing director of Chesapeake Shakespeare. "For families with kids, it's great. The kids can run around."

Added Gallanar: "Kids don't know that they're not supposed to like Shakespeare. We have a view that Shakespeare is for everyone."

Accessibility to the playwright is a goal at Maryland Shakespeare Festival, too. That includes providing extra stretch time for the audience.

"We do two interludes, instead of an intermission," Bellomo said. "And we do abridge the plays. We try for a two-hour running time; it's more like two hours and 15 minutes for 'As You Like It.' We don't want to be leaving here at 11:30 at night, and neither does the audience."

Presented with a simple set, complete with a few painted tree branches to complement the ones growing on the grounds, the production of "As You Like It" features a lively, mostly young cast that seems to relish both fight scenes and lyrical lines.

Given the weather pattern lately, audiences may be able to enjoy "Midsummer Night," "Complete Works" and "As You Like It" under persistently balmy conditions. But if, to quote Shakespeare, "the skies look grimly and threaten present blusters," both companies are prepared.

At the ruins, staffers keep constant watch on weather radar via smartphones.

"The summer we experienced the most rain was 2008," Malin said. "Naturally, that was when we did 'The Tempest.'"

Performances are canceled periodically, including one last year by the Maryland Shakespeare Festival because of severe heat, not rain. But in the grand tradition, the show goes on much more often than not.

"One year, the rain hit just before the wedding scene in 'Taming of the Shrew,'" Malin said. "The audience was offered tickets to any remaining show, but they decided to stick it out with the cast until the rain stopped. The actors passed snacks around to everybody while we waited to finish the play."

Bellomo has seen the same kind of determination.

"It was raining one time so hard, we thought of stopping," he said, "but we saw that the audience just opened umbrellas. So our attitude is, if the audience sticks around, we'll stick around."

tim.smith@baltsun.com



If you go



Chesapeake Shakespeare Company presents "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" through July 24 at Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park. 3691 Sarah's Lane, Ellicott City. Tickets are $15 to $36; children under 18 free. Call 410-313-8661 or go to chesapeakeshakespeare.com.

Maryland Shakespeare Festival presents "As You Like It" Wednesday though July 10 at Evergreen Museum and Library, 4545 N. Charles St. Tickets are $10 to $20. Call 301- 668-4090 or go to mdshkes.org/summer-tour.

  • Text NIGHTLIFE to 70701 to sign up for Baltimore Sun nightlife and music text alerts