NOLA Project is once again spinning its magic in an outdoor setting. Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It (in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art) is perfectly suited to trees and starlight since much of the play takes place in the mythical Forest of Arden. The audience sits on the grass. Actors never strain to be heard and are clearly audible.
The play starts in the court of Duke Frederick (Jim Wright), who usurped the dukedom of his brother Duke Signor (Kris Shaw) and banished him. Signor is biding his time in Arden, trying to demonstrate, as he puts it, “sweet are the uses of adversity.” Rosalind, his daughter, has been allowed by Frederick to remain in his court, because she is cousin and best friend of Frederick’s daughter Celia (Kate Kuen).
In a wrestling match, young Lord Orlando (Michael Krikorian) miraculously defeats the ferocious Charles (Jason Kirkpatrick). He also falls in love with Rosalind (Kathlyn Carson). His love would be requited except fate intervenes. His embittered elder brother Oliver (Michael Aaron Santos) badgers him into exile.
Exile seems to be in the air. In a rage, Frederick banishes Rosalind, and Celia accompanies her as they set off for the Forest of Arden in disguise — Rosalind as a young man named Ganymede and Celia as a poor wench named Aliena. The plot seems complicated, but in action it is both clear and delightful and the complications drive the comedy.
In Arden, lovelorn Orlando is writing poems and nailing them to trees. The forest is inhabited mostly by shepherds and their sheep (girls in sheep costumes). Rosalind, as Ganymede, meets Orlando. She’s thrilled by his poetry, but how to deal with the turnabout in gender? She tells Orlando she knows how to cure him of his love. He should court Ganymede as though he were Rosalind, and Ganymede will disillusion him. This allows Rosalind to spend time with her heartthrob and at times the friendship greatly confuses poor Orlando.
But there’s still more gender confusion: A shepherdess (Kristin Witterschein) falls in love with Ganymede and wants to marry him. More people arrive, among them the banished Signor, Orlando’s faithful servant Adam (Michael P. Sullivan), Touchstone, a fool (Michael Harkins), and musician Clint Johnson, who wrote the music and performed the songs with accordionist Amasa Miller.
The script was trimmed considerably, but the funniest and most obvious cut came in the famous speech by melancholy philosopher Jaques (James Bartelle), who only managed to say “All the world’s a stage . . .” before he was interrupted.
The comedy, of course, ends with marriages and a pastoral fiesta of dance and music. Shauna Leone’s costumes were excellent. Bravo to director Sam Dudley for a sensitive and lively production.