The Bard Plays Thru Problems At Tahoe

Lake Tahoe
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The hail and lightning have stopped and the trail of smoke is slowing from a small wildfire burning on the mountainside just above Lake Tahoe.

Kristie Connolly and Todd Kincaid are sitting on a sand dune with their legs propped up on a boulder in late July, sipping wine and nibbling on chunks of turkey while they wait for the 31st annual Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival to begin.

"It's our first time," said Connolly, who made the 45-minute drive from Reno up the Mount Rose Highway in a heavy thunderstorm to the natural amphitheater on the banks of Tahoe's azure waters.

"It's really awesome up here," Kincaid said as he gazed across the Sierra lake at an elevation of 6,229 feet.

With Tahoe's northeast shore averaging only 8 inches of rain a year, compared with 18 feet of snow, organizers boast that the annual summer performances never have been rained out. (The first formal rain-out came a few days later.)

But Darolyn Skelton, the festival's executive director, seems a bit nervous on this July night when numerous travel writers have been invited from out of town. She insists she's not worried about the audience bailing out.

"Rain crowds are die-hards," she said.

"But we're having a power issue right now," she confides 20 minutes before the 7:30 p.m. showtime for "The Merry Wives of Windsor."

By 7:42 p.m., with no electricity in sight, festival board director Vicki McGowen announces they'll begin the first act without lights or the sound system.

"We have no power. However, in the 16th century, they had no power," she shouts.

At 7:45 p.m., a champagne cork pops in the audience as the cast from the Foothill Theater Company of Nevada City, Calif., takes the stage in Civil War dress for this year's rendition of the "Merry Wives," set in postwar Windsor, N.C.

The crowd is dressed in polo shirts, khaki slacks, T-shirts, sweaters, shorts and baseball caps. Several who came early to save seats are in yellow rain ponchos and some of the kids are still in swimsuits.

By 8:15 p.m., the lights are back on and the microphones are again broadcasting the unusual concoction of Old English with a Southern drawl.

Darrow Brown didn't have any trouble understanding it. A schoolteacher who lives in nearby Incline Village, she has become a regular since she moved to the area two years ago from Raleigh, N.C.

Last year's attendance totaled 27,000 for 32 performances, an average of 850 per show. This year there are 34 performances running Tuesday-Sunday through Aug. 24.

John Kimberlin, who works for the Washoe County sheriff's office, started coming for the picnics four or five years ago and now has taken a liking to the Bard.

"The first year I didn't understand what they were talking about with all the `thou shalts' and the `haths.' But after a few years, I started to get it," he said.