A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream

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A MID­SUM­MER NIGHT’S DREAM, filmed the­ater pro­duc­tion, rated PG, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3.5 chiles

“I have had a most rare vi­sion. I have had a dream — past the wit of man to say what dream it was.” — Bot­tom, A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream Visual magic is mother’s milk to Julie Tay­mor (cre­ator of the Dis­ney stage hit The Lion King), and she quaffs it by the quart in this daz­zling pro­duc­tion of Shake­speare’s screw­ball com­edy, which she mounted for the 2013 open­ing of the Polon­sky Shake­speare Cen­ter in Brook­lyn. Work­ing with Mex­i­can cin­e­matog­ra­pher Ro­drigo Pri­eto (Argo, Frida), Tay­mor filmed her pro­duc­tion over four days of its run, and cre­ated a stage-screen hy­brid that cap­tures the imag­i­na­tion of Tay­mor’s the­ater vi­sion and pre­serves it for the ages.

A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream marked Tay­mor’s re­turn to the New York stage fol­low­ing her trou­bles with Spi­der-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which she con­ceived, co-wrote, di­rected, and got booted from. Here, with Shake­speare’s time­less script to draw on, she lights up the stage with breath­tak­ing ef­fects while cre­at­ing the space for some su­perb per­for­mances.

Most mem­o­rable of th­ese is the cap­ti­vat­ing Kathryn Hunter as a rub­ber­limbed, raspy-voiced, wise­crack­ing Puck. Hunter, a diminu­tive bun­dle of an­drog­y­nous en­ergy, hops and flies about the stage, bend­ing her body into con­tor­tion­ist knots and do­ing the bid­ding of the King of the Fairies, Oberon (a mas­sive, bare-chested David Hare­wood, on leave from his CIA stint in Home­land).

Puck’s mis­sion is to fetch a flower that when “on sleep­ing eye-lids laid/ will make or man or woman madly dote/upon the next live crea­ture that it sees.” Oberon is feud­ing with his queen, Ti­ta­nia, and plots re­venge by mak­ing her fall in love with the first wild crea­ture she sees when wak­ing from a nap in the woods. Ti­ta­nia is played by the ethe­real Tina Benko, white-robed and front-lit by wand lights jut­ting from her bo­som. Puck, putting “a gir­dle round about the earth in forty min­utes,” brings back the blos­som, but af­ter that, things do not go ac­cord­ing to plan, and mer­ri­ment en­sues.

In Tay­mor’s con­cept, the Rude Me­chan­i­cals are her stage crew, a bunch of New York union guys who ex­e­cute her soar­ing visual ef­fects, and then get to­gether to put on a pro­duc­tion of Pyra­mus and Thisbe for the nup­tials of the Duke of Athens ( John Han­nah). They’re all good, and Max Casella’s blus­tery, self-pro­mot­ing Nick Bot­tom leads the pack.

The young lovers in this Shake­speare clas­sic are al­ways a bit try­ing, with their ex­tremes of love and hate and no mid­dle ground. This quar­tet, Her­mia (Lilly En­glert), Lysander ( Jake Horowitz), He­lena (Mandi Mas­den) and Demetrius (Zach Ap­pel­man), starts off a bit shaky, but the ac­tors grow in stature as the plot thick­ens.

In an age of ac­tion-movie CGI ef­fects, it’s ex­cit­ing to see what real-life, hands-on stage magic can pro­duce. The shadows here do not of­fend.

— Jonathan Richards

Royal flush: David Hare­wood and Tina Benko

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