A Midsummer Night’s Dream
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