All the world, to borrow from the Bard, seemed to be outside the stage of Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre Saturday for the opening of Shakespeare's "As You Like It." The worst time to attend a play there has to be on a major holiday weekend. By the time we found a parking space, we were in desperate need of a captivating performance.
It was captivating -- at least the parts of it we could hear.
Ordinarily the outdoor location of the Garden Theatre -- on Compromise Street near City Dock -- adds to its charm, but too many revelers were shouting in the streets for the Fourth.
So many motorcycles could be heard it sounded like a Harley convention at dockside. Then boat whistles added a few blasts. About two-thirds through Act 2, the cacophony reached a crescendo with the thud of a car crash.
These unfortunate conditions afforded an opportunity to judge the ability of the cast to deliver a performance under difficult circumstances. In the words of the play's character Duke Senior: "Sweet are the uses of adversity"; and so they were for the cast.
Every actor not only rose to the challenge but reached a summit of quiet serenity amid the city din. By sheer acting skill, they were able to communicate every word softly to the audience. The actors' concentration was so total they seemed impervious to the outside noises, never indicating awareness by so much as a raised eyebrow.
Director Steve Evans' decision to omit Act 1, with its scenes at court, and set the whole play instead in the forest of Arden was smart: Switching sets would have made the play too long.
Madrigalists filled in the missing act and transported the audience to a simpler and quieter time.
As the play begins, cousins Rosalind and Celia have left the court of Duke Frederick with the court clown, Touchstone, and are wandering in the forest of Arden. Rosalind has fallen in love with Orlando, the son of a loyalist to Duke Senior. Orlando's servant Adam has discovered that Orlando's older brother Oliver plans to kill Orlando.
Weary from their journey, Celia, Rosalind -- dressed as Celia's brother, Ganymede -- and Touchstone arrange for shelter and food with a shepherd, Corin. Once accustomed to the luxury of court, Duke Senior and his loyal followers have been tested by adversity in the forest and learned to take care of themselves.
In her male disguise, Rosalind is reunited with Orlando and tests his devotion by trying to cure him of his love for her. Oliver arrives in Arden and encounters adversity, which purifies him, causing him to restore his brother Orlando's rightful inheritance. He also immediately falls in love with Celia, who returns his love.
Lauren M. Kirby as Rosalind was most outstanding. It's a role that requires delivering reams of dialogue, which Kirby manages with all their poetic richness revealed.
She creates a multidimensional portrait of a strong and witty woman who is both Orlando's lover and worthy adversary. Rosalind's painful, pent-up emotion is well conveyed by Kirby, revealing a purgatory-like side to the idyllic forest of Arden.
M. Lance Lusk as Orlando is Rosalind's ideal partner, bringing a quiet strength and dignity to the role, his magnificent voice adding eloquence to the lines. Lusk's concentration was total, never betraying annoyance with the din outside the theater.
In three minor roles Ed Wintermute made a major impact. He was beguiling as the marriage god Hymen and added nobility to the devotion of Orlando's servant Adam, while at the same time lending humor to the trials of age. Wintermute conveyed a wordly shrewdness in his portrayal of the shepherd Corin.
He also gave a warm and glowing presence to the madrigal singers.
All in all, the evening turned out to be lovely.
All's well that ends well, you could say.
"As You Like It" runs Thursdays through Sundays through July 31 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 103 Compromise St., Annapolis. All performances start at 8: 30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students. Information and reservations: 410-268-9212.