×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Shakespeare in the Park Review: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

With:
Bhavesh Patel, De’Adre Aziza, Shalita Grant, Kyle Beltran, Alex Hernandez, Annaleigh Ashford, Robert Joy, Danny Burstein, Jeff Hiller, Patrena Murray, Austin Durant, Joe Tapper, Richard Poe, Phylicia Rashad, Kristine Nielsen

Who’d have thought that the Rude Mechanicals would rescue a floundering production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and turn it into a giddy delight? Galvanized by Danny Burstein’s open-hearted performance as Bottom the weaver (in a cast that also includes Phylicia Rashad), the village simpletons deliver a side-splitting entertainment that charms the royal court, has the Shakespeare in the Park audience howling, and brings the summer season to a graceful close.

Of all the plays in the Shakespearean canon, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one that cries out to be performed as written.  It’s pure comic romance, celebrating young love and courtship and the marriage of true minds – along with the fun of living among fairies. And because the action takes place in the magical world of fairyland, it’s ideally suited for being performed out of doors and under the stars.

But whatever overall concept director Lear deBessonet had in mind for this production is lost in a muddle of performance styles with no consistency to give it shape. Scenic designer David Rockwell, for one, certainly got the play’s message. The centerpieces of his simple set are three towering trees in full leaf and at the height of their glory. Composed in lustrous shades of green and dressed in dancing lights of Tyler Micoleau’s design, the trees pay homage to the wonders of the natural world – and introduce a hint of the magic waiting for us deeper in the woods.

The sweet if silly plot opens at court in Athens, where Theseus (Bhavesh Patel), the Duke of Athens, is preparing to marry Hippolyta (De’Adre Aziza), the Queen of the Amazons. Hippolyta is literally a trophy wife, the spoils of a decisive battle that went to Theseus. (“Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword, / And won thy love doing thee injuries,” Theseus fondly reminisces.)  But she seems like a willing bride and is, in fact, looking forward to “the night of our solemnities.”

Here, and throughout the play, the Athenian royals are luridly overdressed (by Clint Ramos) in tasteless outfits so blinged-out in gold-encrusted fabrics, it’s a wonder they can walk. The contrast is remarkable once we meet their fairyland counterparts, Oberon (Richard Poe, he with the classical voice of rolling thunder), King of the Fairies, and Titania (Rashad, so lovely and so regal), Queen of the Fairies. Ramos redeems himself by costuming these royals in silvery-white attire that is positively ravishing.

For some reason, the entire population of fairyland, which includes the legendary actress Vinie Burrows, are all elderly and seem rather frail.  But Ramos has dressed everyone in fairyland in long white frocks that look like delicate Victorian nightgowns and are quite pretty. Everyone, that is, except for poor Kristine Nielsen, who is woefully miscast as Puck, the mysterious sprite who flies throughout the kingdom on gossamer wings, making mischief wherever she goes. To add to the indignity, this gifted actress is forced to perform in a blunt bob and unflattering men’s pajamas.

Once the young lovers take center stage in gaudy rag-bag duds, the visual chaos is complete. In due time, Hermia (Shalita Grant) and Lysander (Kyle Beltran) will fall into one another’s arms, as will Helena (Annaleigh Ashford) and Demetrius (Alex Hernandez). But for now, the boys are both fighting over Hermia and Helena is bereft. Once they’re all in fairyland, Oberon tries to help, but his flighty minion, Puck, works his love spells on the wrong people.

The antics of the lovers are all at odds, but so, too, are the performance styles of the four actors, who seem to have barely met. And while the acting tends to sitcom style, none of it comes from the same sitcom. Only Ashford, that gifted comic actress (“Sunday in the Park With George”), breaks out on her own with well-executed pratfalls and vaudeville turns that get laughs, but take us further and further away from the music of the language.

Unlikely as it seems, only the Rude Mechanicals have a consistent style that might be described as earnest honesty. The more seriously they take themselves and their absurdly literal version of “The most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe,” the keener the satire of the popular rustic dramas of amateur actors like these artisans.

Burstein (“Fiddler on the Roof,” “Follies”) is the golden boy of this production for his warmhearted portrayal of Nick Bottom’s joyous love of theater and boundless enthusiasm for acting. Even during his transformation into an ass, Bottom seems to stand slightly outside of himself, enjoying the sight of himself in the role of the fairy queen’s lover. Will he remember his dream? One hopes so.

Unlike those self-conscious young lovers, the rude mechanicals never play to the audience or force a laugh. Peter Quince the carpenter (Robert Joy), Francis Flute the bellows mender (Jeff Hiller), Snout the tinker (Patrena Murray), Snug the joiner (Austin Durant), and Robin Starveling the tailor (Joe Tapper) are completely caught up in the wonderful creation they are constructing. In the face of such devotion to their art, who are we to sneer?

Shakespeare in the Park Review: 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

Delacorte Theater, 1800 seats; free. Opened July 31, 2017. Reviewed July 26. Running time: TWO HOURS, 45 MIN.

Production: A Public Theater presentation of a production by Free Shakespeare in the Park, in association with the City of New York, of a play in two acts by William Shakespeare.

Creative: Directed by Lear deBessonet. Choreographed by Chase Brock. Sets, David Rockwell; costumes, Clint Ramos; lighting, Tyler Micoleau; sound, Jessica Paz; hair, wigs & makeup, Cookie Jordan; original music, orchestrations, and music supervision, Justin Levine; production stage manager, Rick Steiger.

Cast: Bhavesh Patel, De’Adre Aziza, Shalita Grant, Kyle Beltran, Alex Hernandez, Annaleigh Ashford, Robert Joy, Danny Burstein, Jeff Hiller, Patrena Murray, Austin Durant, Joe Tapper, Richard Poe, Phylicia Rashad, Kristine Nielsen

More Legit

  • Michael Shannon Audra McDonald

    Michael Shannon, Audra McDonald to Star in Broadway Revival of 'Frankie and Johnny'

    Michael Shannon and Audra McDonald will portray two lovers whose one-night stand turns into something deeper in the Broadway revival of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” The production is being mounted in honor of playwright Terrence McNally’s 80th birthday. Shannon will play a short-order cook and McDonald will portray a waitress, roles [...]

  • Hamilton review London

    ‘Hamilton’ Helps Drive London Theater Attendance, Box Office to Record Levels

    Brits don’t just like going to the movies; they’re heading to the theater in greater numbers than before, too. “Hamilton” and other hits, particularly musicals, helped drive an uptick in box office receipts and attendance in London’s West End and across the U.K. last year, according to figures from the organizations Society of London Theatre [...]

  • Ethan Hawke

    Listen: Ethan Hawke on 'True West' and the Ghost of Philip Seymour Hoffman

    Ethan Hawke had a long relationship with Sam Shepard and his work — but he never thought he’d end up on Broadway in “True West.” That’s because Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly had already put their stamp on the show in the 2000 Broadway revival of the play. “I kind of felt that that [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Kaye Ballard, Star of 'The Mothers-in-Law,' Dies at 93

    Singer-comedienne Kaye Ballard, who starred alongside Eve Arden in the 1960s sitcom “The Mothers-in-Law” and was among the stars of the 1976 feature based on Terrence McNally’s farce “The Ritz,” died Monday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 93. She had recently attended a screening of a documentary about her life, “Kaye Ballard: The Show [...]

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content