Veteran Broadway director Daniel Sullivan has helmed a broadly comic production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, the second and final installment of Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater. The often produced romantic comedy in which the course of true love never runs smooth is a magical tale and directors over the years have often emphasized the dreamlike qualities inherent in the story, but Mr. Sullivan has given us a fast and furious staging that stresses the comedic aspects. His Midsummer Night’s Dream is a screwball comedy filled with an assortment of hilarious tricks that underscore many moments with extremely silly behavior that is often a raucous delight. The evening, however, despite all the calculated shenanigans is wildly uneven. Many of the mysteries of love, which are alluded to in the play, are glossed over as the complexities of that glorious emotion are left unexplored.
The outdoor venue of Central Park is a perfect setting and scenic designer Eugene Lee, who is well known for his elaborate sets, the original Sweeny Todd and Wicked, has created a minimalist version of the Forest of Arden by placing one giant gnarled tree in the center of a barren stage accentuating the Central Park surroundings, which then become part of the set lending tremendous weight to his simple design. The smitten lovers roaming the woods in pursuit of one another will put the lone tree to much use throughout Shakespeare’s enchanted evening.
Being one of the Bard’s most popular plays, the story is probably familiar to most everyone, but for the young and the uninitiated Sullivan makes the complicated course easy to follow. The first scene is set in Athens at the court of Theseus, where everyone ignores the tree, and we learn the Duke of Athens (Daniel Oreskes) is about to wed Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Opal Alladin). She has her feet washed before any dialogue is even spoken, a clever piece of staging, that sets the tone for the dynamics between them.
When Shakespeare shifts his focus to the forest, the four cantankerous lovers, whose intoxicated spells drive the action and give the play its lasting appeal, take center stage. Because of her love for Lysander (Austin Lysy), Hermia (Mireille Enos) refuses to marry Demetrius (Elliot Villar), who is in love with her, but is being pursued by Helena (Martha Plimpton). Fleeing their elders they escape to the woods outside of Athens in hopes of finding true love.
Enos is petulantly amusing, but Plimpton absolutely shines in an outrageous portrayal of Helena that depicts her as suffering from an almost terminal case of low self-esteem. In Sullivan’s hands the four become comic pawns devoid of any nuance, but the stakes are raised with effective use of imaginative sight gags.
Sullivan’s staging of the rude mechanicals rehearsing the play in the woods, which they plan to present at the Duke’s wedding, is hysterical. The mechanicals are Peter Quince (Tim Blake Nelson), Nick Bottom (Jay O. Sanders), Francis Flute (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), Robin Starveling (Ken Cheeseman), Tom Snout (Jason Antoon), and Snug (Keith Randolph Smith) and they are all wonderfully amusing in the crazy play within the play production near the end of the evening. Sanders, however, shines as a dumb Bottom and had the audience in stitches.
King of the Fairies, Oberon (Keith David), and his Queen Titania (Laila Robins) make up the play’s final plot element. David makes a strong Oberon, but Robins’ Titania is marvelous. She luxuriates in the beauty of Shakespeare’s language and she tackles her scenes with Bottom with abandoned delight that is precisely the mood of the evening.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing The Delacorte Theater in Central Park (nearest the Central Park West at 81st Street entrance) as part of the “Summer of Love” running until September 9, 2007. Tickets are free (only two per performance) and can be obtained only on the same day as the performance after 1 pm at the Delacprte Theater and 1-3pm at the Public Theater (435 Lafayette Street between Astor Place and E 4th Street). A number of tickets are also distributed at various locations throughout the five boroughs on specific days (call for info) (212) 539-8500. Showtime is 8:00PM
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published on Hamptons.com