It's hard to imagine a better "Shakespeare in the Park" setting for A Midsummer Night's Dream than the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, but the NOLA Project deserves extra credit for using the space so well. The play is set at three different locations in the garden, and Andrew Larimer's direction makes full use of the entire expanse as Puck (Francesca McKenzie) is dispatched by Oberon (Jason Kirkpatrick) to procure flowers with magical properties and apply charms to the young lovers wandering in the forest. The entertainingly rambunctious action roams near and far, and there is a large gaggle of fairies constantly swirling about. Larimer probably doesn't get credit for directing the ducks that occasionally waddle by to investigate the action, but the intruding wildlife nicely complements the drama's whimsy and the silliness of the "rude mechanicals" play within the play.
In the primary plot, Egeus (Mark Routhier) tries to marry off his daughter Hermia (Kristin Witterschein) to Demetrius (Sean Glazebrook), but she loves Lysander (Zach Rogers). Helena (Veronica Hunsinger-Loe) would be glad to have Demetrius, but he's not interested. All arrangements must be resolved by the time of Theseus' wedding, and the fairie king Oberon intervenes with the use of magic, but Puck's misapplication and some misfortune create chaos as the lovers are duped into new affections.
Also running amok in the forest are the amateur actors rehearsing a play to perform at Theseus' and Hippolyta's nuptuals. Peter Quince (A.J. Allegra) tries to direct the ragged bunch, but the exceptionally self-important Bottom (Emilie Whelan) overruns his show. Whelan's energy and buffoonery, Hunsinger-Loe's spirited and histrionic Helena and Kirkpatrick's commanding Oberon make the long middle sequence the best part of the show.
The final setting is inspired visually and technically, though it is a challenge for the players to project the action across the entire setting. The NOLA Project's skilled young cast is perfect for the comedy's characters and they liven its lusty whims with frenzied physical comedy and baudy jokes. The play runs in the New Orleans Museum of Art's Friday night Where Y'Art series, and it's a wonderful marriage of visual and performing arts. — Will Coviello
Thru May 27
A Midsummer Night's Dream
7 p.m. Friday
Sydney and Walda Bestoff Sculpture Garden, City Park, 1 Collins C. Diboll Circle, 658-4100; www.noma.org
Tickets $10, $8 students/seniors, $6 children, free for NOMA members and area university students with school ID