“Remember: There are no small parts, only small actors,” wrote Konstantin Stanislavsky, the Russian theater director who laid the groundwork for the Method acting movement popularized by the likes of Marlon Brandon and Robert DeNiro.
It’s a phrase often used to quell the disappointment of young actors who didn’t get cast as the lead. But it’s at the very core of what makes a performance great.
Such is the case with Matthew Rigdon, who plays a simple guard in NOLA Project’s current production of “Robin Hood: Thief, Brigand,” which takes place in the New Orleans Museum of Arts’ Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden.
Not only is Rigdon anything but small, being a bit reminiscent of Andre the Giant, but without uttering a single word, he stays in character, mouth agape, every second he is on stage.
Whether he’s moving set pieces or subtly reacting to the pandemonium whirling around him, he convincingly proves there are no small parts.
His performance also speaks to why NOLA Project succeeds at so many of its productions.
It is first and foremost an ensemble company working as one cohesive unit. All actors, whether they are cast in small roles or lead parts, consistently give professional and engaging performances.
It also highlights the effective control director Beau Bratcher has with this cast and this production. Every actor is focused, every word is heard and understood and every moment has purpose.
Bratcher also does an exemplary job capitalizing on his “en plein air” set. One of my favorite moments was seeing, far in the distance, an ethereal Maid Marion crossing one of the garden’s bridges.
And scenic designer Tory Ducati helps to magically transform the sculpture garden into Sherwood Forest.
The evening is full of wit, passion and exhilarating audience participation, but the highlight is the stage combat designed by Alex Martinez Wallace, who also puts in a hilarious performance as King John.
The play is a retelling of the Robin Hood myth with some political amplification on the theme of how the privileged class treats the poor.
Robin and his band of Merry Men intercept a chest full of gold on its way to France. Robin decides that the nobility should not hold onto its wealth, and he sets out to make the peasants wealthy instead.
Andrew Vaught’s script captures the speech and spirit of the time, and contains admirably well-written parts for women. Trina Beck as Eleanor is every inch the regal queen, and Kaitlyn McQuin’s Maid Marion is full of passion. When Natalie Boyd’s Scarlett goes all “Kill Bill” on the three lords it took my breath away.
The three lords, Price Provenzano, Keith Claverie and Nicholas Stephens provide top-flight comic relief. With a mixture of vaudeville, Three Stooges and Monty Python, their performances alone are worth the price of your ticket.
James Bartelle as Robin is effective, Alec Barnes as Barg is surprising and Becca Chapman’s Alan A Dale is full of kinetic energy.
Granted, the ending requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief. But all is forgiven, because everything else, from costumes to music, succeeds so well.
Oh, and high marks go out to the sumptuous evening breeze, the starry sky and the soulful trill of the evening bird’s song.