A CurtainUp Review
A Midsummer Night's Dream
At first, only a steady drizzle prevailed. It was not enough to dissuade the hearty actors or those of us in the audience that had made the commitment to see Shakespeare's mixture of fantasy and folklore in this glorious outdoor setting. By 9:40, however, with the rain increasing in intensity and despite the actors' apparent willingness to precariously splash and cavort about, the performance was stopped. The good news is that what we did see during the first twenty minutes had demonstrably whetted (or is it wetted?) our desire to return on a more seductive night. And so it was to be on Wednesday August 22.
The atmosphere within the Delacorte Theater in Central Park is created mostly by the presence on the stage of a very life-like and huge metal and rubber tree, its main feature being a carved out ledge on a limb large enough to later accommodate a reclining fairy queen and her ass of a lover. The tree, augmented with real branches and limbs, is the work of designer Eugene Lee and serves nicely the needs of a production that works hard to bring a restored sense of freshness to the Bard's ever charming, if overly familiar comedy.
Notwithstanding director Daniel Sullivan's injurious mishap during rehearsals, the production (rumored to have been subsequently put under the guidance of the Public Theater's artistic director Oskar Eustis) shows no signs that it has suffered. If anything, all the performers appear genuinely delighted by their lot and garner more laughs than even the most easily enamored of the comedy could want. It is overall a winning production enhanced to a large degree by designer Ann Hould-Ward's stunning, audaciously conceived Victorian costumes. Enos looks scrumptious enough to eat in her pink and white bustled dress that might easily pass muster as a wedding cake.
The plot, in which a group of motley mechanicals plan a play to be given at the marriage of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, while Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies have a quarrel that involves Oberon's servant Puck, is famously thick with incidents and co-incidents that also involve the matching and mismatching of two sets of lovers. But enough of that, as it is Sullivan's vigorous and lively approach and the cohesiveness of his vision of the comedy that makes it a treat. There is never a dull moment with a company that is as frolicsome with the rhymed couplets as it is amidst the misadventures that they encounter as in a dream.
As this play is a rather rambunctious expose of love at its most playfully passionate and physical, it is a joy to see such perfectly paired actors as Mireille Enos (Hermia), Austin Lysy (Lysander), Martha Plimpton (Helena) and Elliot Villar (Demetrius) plunging with such verve into its alliances and misalliances. These four get into a raucous no holds-barred mêlée at the beginning of the second act that is as hilariously executed as any Victorian bodice ripper. David Neumann's robust choreography is a notable assist as the ladies' dresses are immodestly torn off in the ensuing tussle, their lovely bloomers revealed without any apologies.
The in-and-out-of-love quartet chase, flip and fling each other about with a wild abandon that giving the play its most comical moments. Enos is charming and beguiling as Hermia, who "though she be but little, she is fierce." But it is Plimpton who gets even more earnestly into this romp, as the aggressively love-possessed Helena, revealing an unusually lusty maiden who isn't above ripping open her own bodice for want of her man. Both Lysy and Villar comport themselves well as their bewitched and beguiled suitors.
This is not to say that the six performance challenged mechanicals haven't been afforded their own unique prescription of goofy doings. Standout among them are Jay O'Sanders who gives a laugh-aloud account of the idiotically self-aggrandizing Nick Bottom, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, as the insecure Flute, whose affection for his role in the play within the play " The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of, " Pyramus and Thisby, grows exponentially.
Laila Robins injects a harsh tone and an aggressively deployed eroticism as Titania, Queen of the Fairies. And who knew that Robins, who comes across as an unexpectedly hot number in black lacey undergarments and flaming red hair could sing so well? The production is favored with some lovely original music, songs and incidental, by Dan Moses Schreier. Puck, as played with an appropriately Peck's bad boyishness by John Michael Hill, often makes his entrances and exits from a trap door and entertains with some delightful bits of slight-of-hand magic.
Through the snippy affectations of Opal Alladin, as Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, the droll responses of Daniel Oreskes, as Theseus, Duke of Athens, the jealously laced declarations of Keith David, as Oberon, king of the Fairies (quite dapper in black top hat and tails), the many faces and facets of love are reflected in the purity of their performances. Not to be easily forgotten is the face of bespectacled Tim Blake Nelson, as Peter Quince, as he barely contains his tolerance with his ever so mechanical players. We are, after all, consigned to see the many faces and facets of love as reflected through the purity of these performances. Chelsea Bacon, who plays the First Fairy dressed in a sexy maid's uniform slithers upside down the tree on a rope, as the other fairies (played by children) offer disarming moments of delight under the magical lighting provided by designer Michael Chybowski. This is a Midsummer Night's Dream that is sure to keep you enchanted come mist or moonlight.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide