FREEPORT – William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” is not your everyday comedy. As Shakespeare was known to do, he infused his romantic comedy with honest humanity.

Which is to say, things don’t always work out as we might hope they would.

“Almost no one in the play ends up with who they thought they wanted,” says director Dennis McLernon. “This is not a typically celebratory ending. Shakespeare reminds us there is discord at the end of the play.”

“Twelfth Night” opened Wednesday at the Freeport Shakespeare Festival at L.L. Bean Discovery Park. It runs through Aug. 12, although there is no performance on Monday. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m., and are free.

A word to the wise: because this is an outdoor show, weather is a factor. “Twelfth Night” was to open on Tuesday, but the violent thunderstorms that raked the midcoast forced its cancellation.

The festival will attempt to post information in a timely manner if a performance is canceled, and people are encouraged to check the website ( for updates.

Patrons are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnics, but the earliest you can reserve a spot for your chair is 8 a.m. on the day of a performance. Chairs cannot be left overnight.

This is the second year of the Freeport Shakespeare Festival. Last year, about 2,500 people saw four performances of “The Tempest.” This year, with 10 performances of “Twelfth Night,” festival artistic director Julie George-Carlson is banking on larger crowds.

The park just outside the main entrance to L.L. Bean’s flagship store can accommodate about 1,000 people nightly.

Everything about this year’s production is bigger and better, George-Carlson said.

“After last year’s show, we went to L.L. Bean and said, ‘So, what do you think?”‘ she said. “They were very happy. They said, ‘We want you back, and what about a longer run?’ We were like, ‘Yes, absolutely.’“

The key to making that happen was increasing financial support. Last year, the festival recruited 12 corporate sponsors. This year, there are 33. Last year’s budget was about $80,000; this year, it’s $90,000.

Although the show is free and always will be free, donations will also be sought, George-Carlson said. If people want to contribute, they will have the opportunity to do so, enabling the festival to grow more robustly.

“We’re growing, and we’re going to continue to grow,” she said.

The growth comes in many ways.

In addition to the main-stage production of “Twelfth Night,” the festival also includes the comedy “Before Bill: A Comic Romp Through Medieval Times” at the festival’s Factory Stage indoor venue in Freeport (which requires tickets), as well as a children’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Among the three shows, there are 25 performances by three companies of actors on three stages.

The cast of “Twelfth Night” includes a core cast of 13, eight of whom are professional actors. Many of Maine’s best-known actors are involved, including Kevin O’Leary, James Noel Hoban, Michael Howard, J.P. Guimont and Tony Reilly.

McLernon sets this production in the late 1700s. It is richly textured, with an elaborate stage set and lush costumes.

His goal is to reinforce the idea of unfilled longing and unrequited love, in a Chekhovian sort of way.

“It’s not tidy at the end,” he said. “It’s actually very human, which is very messy. That’s what we are emphasizing.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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