Review: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park

An awful lot goes on in William Shakespeare’s dream play, but here’s all you really have to know. It’s set in Athens at first, later moves into the woods, for that’s where all the dreaming goes on. Athens represents the real world, where law and order reign, and to the Elizabethans the woods represented magic and romance.

Phylicia Rashad, Danny Burstein, Warren Wyss, Vinie Burrows and Keith Hart. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The Duke of Athens is planning to marry Hypollyta, Queen of the Amazons, in four days time. Lysander loves Hermia and Hermia loves Lysander. Helena loves Demetrius. He used to love Helena but now he loves Hermia. Egeus, Hermia’s father, prefers Demetrius for his daughter. She won’t have him, and her father threatens her with death or the nunnery if she disobeys him, and he enlists the aid of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to enforce his wishes on his very determined daughter. He has Athenian law on his side, but she’s having none of it. There is more, but you won’t need to know that until you get to the forest in the second half of the play.

The Public Theatre is offering this new revival in a timely fashion, running it outdoors in Central Park for five weeks until August 13. Lear de Bessonet is in charge as the resident director at The Public and she’s staged it smoothly, with choreography by Chase Brock, who is perhaps best known for his work on Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark. A large budget has allowed for a splendidly opulent production, and the Central Park background on a summer’s eve is a very real contributor to the pleasures of the evening.

Annaleigh Ashford and Alex Hernandez. Photo by Joan Marcus.

David Rockwell’s design for the forest makes it blend beautifully with the real one supplied by the park behind it. Clint Ramos’ costumes are colorful and fun. A large cast which includes a half dozen Broadway favorites is having a grand time cavorting across its vast stage, occasionally dancing to the music of Justin Levine, whose orchestra is somewhere up there in the treetops overlooking everything going on below. A cabaret singer named Michelle Davies-Lashley makes an occasional appearance carrying her own microphone, and appears to have brought part of her cabaret act along with her. It’s that kind of an all-inclusive midsummer night.

It takes Mr. Shakespeare the whole first act to introduce most of the principals, and then we move to the forest where the fairies live. They have Oberon and Titania the Royals, who rule over them, and Richard Poe and Phylicia Rashad make them a most handsome couple. Ms Rashad’s voice is the perfect instrument to deliver her refusal to share the changeling boy whom she has taken on as her own when his mother died in childbirth. Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck, is giving the versatile Kristine Nielsen employment as the mischief making male fairy, following in the footsteps of such as Mickey Rooney (as a small boy in the 1935 film), Ian Holm and Stanley Tucci, among many other men over the years. Ms. Nielsen, always welcome onstage, has chosen to show us the kick Puck gets out of the chaos he causes by pouring love potion into the wrong ears.

Phylicia Rashad and Danny Burstein. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Annaleigh Ashford brings her own very special charms to the role of Hermia, and Kyle Beltran is attractive enough for us to share her happiness when she finally lands him. Danny Burstein is on target as Bottom the Weaver, the mechanical who wants to play all the parts in Peter Quince’s production of Pyramus and Thisby, which is the group’s wedding offering for Theseus, the Duke of Athens and his betrothed, Hippolyta. Love conquers all, Puck redeems himself by bringing the right partners to the altar, and he gets to end the evening with a plea for us all to forgive him for possibly offending us, and asks: “Give me your hands, if we be friends, and Robin shall restore amends.” Now, with everyone having such a fine summer evening out, who could resist that?

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays through August 13, 2017 at The Public Theatre performing at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, New York, NY. Tickets are distributed in front of the Delacorte Theater on a first-come, first-served basis at 12:00 pm every day there is a public performance (get there very early) and via digital lottery online.



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