By: David Sheward
High-definition screenings of theatrical events are not just coming from London’s National Theatre or the Stratford festivals in Canada and England. Off-Bro
adway’s Theatre for a New Audience has filmed genius-level director Julie Taymor’s imaginative production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be shown on screens nationwide on June 22 (There was a brief controversy about distribution and payments resulting in a lawsuit, but the case has been withdrawn.) The staging opened TFANA’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn in 2013 and was Taymor’s first production after her Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark debacle.
Here she returns to her roots of intimate theatricality. She uses no puppets and only a few of her signature masks, yet the atmosphere is still charged with magic-appropriate for Shakespeare’s tale of fairies mischievously fiddling with mortals. This screen version, filmed during several live performances and also directed by Taymor, captures the intimacy and vibrancy of her unique vision.
Her camerawork is active, cutting between long shots and close-ups, but never too busy, and allows us to drink in Taymor’s bizarre kingdom of sprites, lovers, and fools. The spirits are mostly played by small children who are manipulated by black-clad actors so the kids look as if they are flying. Kathryn Hunter’s Puck is sort of an acrobatic Linda Hunt. The diminutive actress with a honey-rich voice contorts herself a myriad of impossible positions. David Harewood is a dark, muscular Oberon while Tina Benko is an ethereal, almost albino Titania. They give off sexual sparks usually missing from the portrayal of this royal couple of the netherworld. The lovers are a maddeningly mixed-up quartet and Lilly Englert’s Hermia is particularly enchanting. She’s a spoiled Barbie doll used to getting her way who becomes comically perplexed when both her suitors turn against her because of Puck’s mistaken spell.
The rude mechanicals are each given distinctly individual personalities including Max Cassella’s working-class Bottom, Joe Grifasi’s bookish Peter Quince, Zachary Infante’s unexpectedly passionate Francis Flute, Jacob Ming-Trent’s enthusiastic Tom Snout, William Youman’s fussy Starveling, and Brendan Everett’s simple but sweet-natured Snug.
It’s an exciting and welcome stage-to-screen transfer and hopefully more American companies will follow suit and bring the best of Broadway, Off-Broadway and the regions to movie audience nationwide.
June 22 in cinemas nationwide. Visit www.fathomevents.com for locations.
Photos: Morgan Carlton (Omniverse Vision)