REVIEW: Bristol Renaissance Faire (Kenosha)


Renaissance Entertainment Productions presents
Bristol Renaissance Faire
12550 120th Avenue, Kenosha, WI  (map)
Weekends thru September 6th, 10am-7pm
Tickets: $9-$20, $3 for parking |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

If all the world’s a stage, the Bristol Renaissance Faire is one huge play. Everyone who visits it instantly becomes a part of the pageant if not the drama. Now in its fourth decade, this gargantuan historical fantasy, defying its name, celebrates the past–from the Middle Ages through the 17th century. This very imaginative, sprawling village [#Beginning of Shooting Data Section]
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fair conflates Renaissance revelry, knightly jousts, courtly dances honoring Gloriana (Elizabeth I) and her new suitor, the Duc d’Anjou, and the 200 skilled craftsmen who create blown glass, heraldic shields, alchemy, horoscopes, dulcimers, leatherwork, pottery, Tudor tapestries – and Budweiser. It all happens in a richly wooded glade that could easily pass for an English hamlet if you don’t look too hard at the signage that surrounds you on all sides.

Straddling the state line (just off Interstate 94), Bristol’s blast from the past is nothing if not theatrical, even scripted. Elizabeth’s flirtatious courtship with her “French frog” wooer (you’ll hear a lot of Francophobic mutterings as you converse with her courtiers) is as choreographed as the pavanes, galliards, corantos, and passepieds performed in her palatial patio. Drummers pound their skins in scary synchronicity. The speeches at the daily tournament are carefully rehearsed, as any state occasion would require.

But there’s audience interaction too as mud beggars hustle the crowd or sassy braggarts encourage patrons (often themselves festooned in historical costumes) to hurl ripe tomatoes at their insulting pusses. The carnival-style booths provide small-scale contests in archery and hatchet throwing. The signature performances this year include the riotously funny Swordsmen (Doug Mumaw and David Woolley), the delightful New Minstrel players, Adam Winrich’s fire whipping show, a Kid’s Kingdom that features “Cutlass Cooking” classes, Moonie the Magnificent’s juggling and ropewalking, a Punch and Judy puppet show, a demonstration of the royal falcon’s predatory prowess, even a lesson in Tudor etiquette at Lady Ettie’s Tea Time.

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But the biggest show among these delightful distractions is the daily joust for the favor of Elizabeth. In a field of glory, armored knights on horseback practice feats of equestrian daring in order to be narrowed down to two valiant warriors (one a crowd-mocking villain). These mounted athletes will move from wielding spears while on saddles to slashing swords when finally on their feet. As full of false bluster as any championship wrestling match, it all ends, two hours later, with a daily duel to the death (the apparent horror of which I was lucky enough to miss seeing).

My last visit to the Faire was two decades ago–so I was unprepared for how much it had expanded under the new ownership of Renaissance Entertainment Productions that took over in 1990. There’s now a swordsmenRenaissance ship permanently docked at a man-made pond, two elephants available for riding, an absolutely irresistible petting zoo, and at least five stages for itinerant musicians, hucksters, buskers, fops, and acrobats. Strangely, considering the periods covered, I saw no wandering nuns, monks, friars or jesters but perhaps they had time-traveled to a different entertainment on opening weekend. A glaring but very useful anachronism is the RenQuest, the Faire’s live action fantasy-play game that tests role-playing skills in all three dimensions. This year’s final chapter of “The Bloodtharken Trilogy” completes the story of the struggle between the brave and noble order of the Sun and the chaotic and dangerous Lunar Tribe.

As much as American Players Theatre further north, the Bristol Renaissance Faire also provides a worthy service by giving Chicago and local actors and street performers half a summer of semi-gainful employment and, better yet for future reference, exposure of their crafts, skills and styles. But that’s what a fair is supposed to do as it markets the past to the future.

For information call or call 847-395-7773.

Rating: ★★★★