What better way to spend a glorious, moonlit mid-summer’s evening than at The Delacorte Theater in Central Park watching one of Shakespeare’s lightest comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the story of magic, fairies, love, weddings and amateur theatricals. It begins in the days leading up to the wedding of the Duke of Athens to Hippolyta, an Amazonian queen. In the meantime, another royal couple is feuding. The King of the Fairies, Oberon, plots to get a changeling boy from his wife, Titania. So he has Puck, a sprite, cast a spell over her as she sleeps in the woods, causing her to fall in love with the first ghastly creature she sees.
In yet another plot, a young couple, Hermia and Lysander, elope to the same woods and are pursued by Demetrius who loves Hermia and Helena who loves Demetrius. Using Oberon’s spell, Puck mistakenly has both men fall in love with Helena, leading to comic mayhem and a cat fight between the two women.
Confusing? Maybe. Hysterical? Definitely. And oh, there’s a fourth story about a group of Athenian craftsmen preparing a play for the Duke’s nuptials.
Director Lear deBessonet has assembled a talented ensemble of Broadway talents, including Phylicia Rashad (Titania,) the irrepressible Annaleigh Ashford (Helena,) Danny Burstein (Bottom) and the marvelous Kristine Nielsen as the mischievous Puck.
Although I’d seen the play before, this was the first time I laughed aloud and so often. Much of the humor in the play comes from the exaggerated performances. Ashford is adorable as the bewildered and frustrated Helena. Her gestures and dialogue are emphasized and the young couples’ interactions have sexual overtones. In this version, the two young couples seem to be central characters and the Delacorte audience adores them.
Burstein plays the jackass that Titania falls in love with, and, although he’s pompous, we love him. He and the rest of the artisan troupe bring the show to a riotous ending. One striking aspect of the casting is in the makeup of Titania’s band of fairies. All of them are older. In fact, the Fifth Fairy, Min Borack, notes in her bio that she was born during the depression.
Modern politics are frightening and the world situation is dire. Of late, theater has reflected that grim mood. Watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream is like having a light fluffy sugary dessert after a heavy meal. It was like having a wonderful dream but not wanting to wake up.