EmptyShakespeare in the Park, Central Park, New York
Through Sept. 9
Director Daniel Sullivan has provided a rollicking production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" for the second and final entry of this summer's Shakespeare in the Park. Solidly cast, and with hilarious turns from the six actors playing those comical amateur performers, the "rude mechanicals," this "Midsummer" will prove a good choice for anyone seeking free, late-summer entertainment.
Hilarity is not what you expect at the start of this production, however, for the trunk and spreading branches of an enormous dead tree are all that decorate the Public Theater's outdoor stage. In Theseus' Athens (apparently an outpost of 1880s England), people are not getting along. Barefoot, exotically dressed Hippolyta (Opal Alladin) is angry with Theseus (Daniel Oreskes), her Victorian husband-to-be. Egeus (George Morfogen) forbids his daughter, Hermia (Mireille Enos), to marry her beloved Lysander (Austin Lysy). Lively Helena (Martha Plimpton) adores Demetrius (Elliot Villar), but he only has eyes for Hermia.
Things are not going much better in the fairy kingdom, but at least the magic of mysterious, dark-suited Oberon (Keith David, "The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson") and his henchman, Puck (Jon Michael Hill), can rile things up a bit. Indeed, once the young lovers run into the forest, and once red-haired Titania (Laila Robins) falls in lust with ass-headed Nick Bottom (Jay O. Sanders), the fun of Shakespeare's comedy and this production go into high gear.
In recent summers, the Public Theater's outdoor encounters with Shakespeare have tended to be an unbalanced mix of adept and awkward performances. But Sullivan has assembled a fairly strong cast, and with the help of costumes by Ann Hould-Ward ("Beauty and the Beast"), Michael Chybowski's fine lighting and Dan Moses Schreier's enticing music, Sullivan defines and preserves the three worlds of the play.
But the stage-struck rustics, who inhabit the world of tailors, tinkers and carpenters, run away with the production. As Bottom, the weaver who acts Pyramus in the play-within-the-play, Sanders is a comical tower of egotism, until that wonderful moment when, performing for the Athenian wedding party, he truly feels Pyramus' pain. Similarly, Jesse Tyler Ferguson ("The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"), as Flute, the bellows-mender, displays a comical aversion to the part of Thisbe until he too is swept up in the passion of the moment.
Sullivan has a way with farce, and the antics of the amateur troupe make you cry tears of laughter. In this straightforward production, unencumbered by any grandiose concept, it is these figures of fun and determined dedication to Thespis that convey the true feeling of a midsummer night's dream.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Presented by the Public Theater
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Daniel Sullivan
Set designer: Eugene Lee
Costume designer: Ann Hould-Ward
Lighting designer: Michael Chybowski
Composer: Daniel Moses Schreier
Sound designer: Acme Sounds Partners
Theseus: Daniel Oreskes
Hippolyta: Opal Alladin
Egeus: George Morfogen
Hermia: Mireille Enos
Demetrius: Elliot Villar
Lysander: Austin Lysy
Helena: Martha Plimpton
Peter Quince: Tim Blake Nelson
Nick Bottom: Jay O. Sanders
Francis Flute: Jesse Tyler Ferguson
Robin Starveling: Ken Cheeseman
Tom Snout: Jason Antoon
Snug: Keith Randolph Smith
Puck: Jon Michael Hill
First Fairy: Chelsea Bacon
Oberon: Keith David
Titania: Laila Robins
Philostrate: Herb Foster