William Shakespeare’s mischievous, madcap and poignant romantic comedy “As You Like It” has found itself in the hands of NOVA Nightsky, a theater production company based out of the City of Falls Church.
For those familiar with Shakespeare, the plot, characterization and dialogue were done with spectacular reverence for the source material; for those not familiar with “the Bard,” NOVA Nightsky’s rendition of “As You Like It” deftly blended modern attributes — attire, accessories and even certain mannerisms — into the story making it easy to keep up with the typically-dense dialogue Shakespeare plays are known for.
These shades of modernity, like one muscular character’s “USA” wrestling jersey and the several pairs of stylishly ripped jeans, were present in a calculated, economical fashion, adding levity to many of the scenes. Much of the humor in “As You Like It” came through or was punctuated by the actors’ facial expressions, background hijinks or sudden, bombastic bursts of running and falling — creating a happy medium between slapstick and the intricacies of Shakespeare’s logic and wit.
“As You Like It,” dealing with the themes of love, acceptance, self-respect, identity and truth, centers on Rosalind and Orlando, two lovers forced to contend with exile, distance, family, danger and the plights of love itself. Erica Irving portrayed Rosalind and John Payl Odle was Orlando; Irving’s Rosalind exuded kindness and a sincere human sensitivity throughout, while Odle’s Orlando unabashedly displayed a fiery piety and purity of heart.
Their body language, together and apart, as well as their intonation and blocking solidified them as the emotional core of all the meandering misadventures that transpired from start to finish — primarily in the ancient forest of Arden. The rest of the cast sparkled in their given roles, with many actors filling more than one character’s shoes.
The cast was as follows: Mattie Cohan as Coring; Will MacLeod as Silvius; Stu Fischer as the Dukes; Jack Mayo as Jacques; Danielle Taylor as Touchstone; Kate Medwar-Vanderlinden as Phoebe; Ariana MacLeod as Audrey; Shannon MacCarthy as Oliver; Kristen Smith as Lebeau, Amiens and Hymen; Brittany Huffman as Celia; Gabby Carter as Charles and William; and Randall Kish as Adam and Sir Oliver Mar-Text. While the ensemble as a whole breathed new life into “As You Like It,” Danielle Taylor especially stood out as Touchstone, a silly, colorful “fool,” who often sees things clearer than most of the other heroes and villains around him.
Costume design for “As You Like It” was done by Amanda Ranowsky; fight choreography — the production featured a few dynamic, clear-cut fight scenes — by Casey Kaleba; and design and technical direction by Adam Ressa. Ward Kay, co-founder of NOVA Nightsky along with the company’s producing director Jaclyn Robertson, was responsible for the play’s artistic direction. Chuck O’Toole, the director, in his introduction, made a note of thanking Vienna Baptist Church — where the production was held for two consecutive weekends — for the use of their grounds as well as their support.
The spacious outdoor area, sparsely decorated with benches, fairy light trees and a changing room divider, gave the actors ample room to explore their characters’ physicality while further adding to the impression of an expansive forest. Two stage lights, on either side of the performing space, lit the area as night fell over the church — underscoring the passage of time in the story as well as highlighting the fact the majority of the characters spend their time wrestling with their wild emotions among the wilderness of the Arden trees.
NOVA Nightsky’s next production, and their final one for the season, is entitled “After the Storm,” written by Ward Kay. It will premiere Thursday, September 29th and conclude its first run on Saturday, October 1st. A second run of “After the Storm” will take place from October 6th — 8th. To find out more about NOVA Nightsky, visit novanightskytheater.com.