Review: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at Public Theater – Delacorte Theater in Central Park

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If something unexpected or odd happens to a character in the play, it likely has happened at Puck’s hands. Puck, who serves as jester to Oberon (Richard Poe), the fairy king, is central to the play as he beseeches the audience to consider what they have seen on stage a dream (“If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended, That you have but slumber’d here, While these visions did appear).

Puck, at the behest of Oberon, causes the four young lovers in the story, Lysander (Kyle Beltran) and Hermia (Shalita Grant) as well as Demetrius (Alex Hernandez) and Helena (Annaleigh Ashford) to believe they were in fact dreaming what took place in the forest. Ashford’s over-the-top and very physical performance seems to channel her inner Lucille Ball: she arrives on stage, mascara running down her face, and proceeds to stumble and fall in a hilarious manner while frequently uttering the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable.

What is taking place before the audience is that each of the four wildly lust after the wrong person, thanks to none other than Puck who eventually figures out his mistake (he sprayed a love potion on the wrong person) and puts things right.

The mechanicals’ presentation of their play within a play, a “tedious brief scene” between young Pyramus and Thisbe, is indeed tedious by design but gives us the gift of Jeff Hiller in drag as a deliberately impassive Thisbe.

Rounding out the cast are Phylicia Rashad as Titania, Queen of the Fairies; Danny Burstein as Nick Bottom, a weaver; Bhavesh Patel as Theseus, Duke of Athens; De’adre Manis as Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, betrothed to Theseus; David Mains as Egeus, father to Hermia; Robert Joy as Peter Quince, a carpenter; Justin Cunningham as Philostrate, Master of the Reveals to Theseus; and a seemingly unlimited number of fairies in haunting white pajamas and nightgowns.

Much of the success is due to the music, with some incredible vocals by Marcelle Davies Lashley, the Fairy Singer (a role not found in most productions), some original New Orleans-style music by Justin Levine, and the six-piece orchestra in the treetops under the direction of Jon Spurney.

The result is an interesting and hilarious yet thoughtful production that is likely to beguile and enchant the theatergoer. As with all Shakespeare in the Park productions, this is a limited engagement and the last performance is August 13.

THE DETAILS

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Public Theater – Delacorte Theater
81 Central Park West
New York, N.Y. 10023
Runtime: 2 hour 30 minutes
www.publictheater.org

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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