In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I review the Public Theater’s new Shakespeare in the Park production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here’s an excerpt.
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No play, by Shakespeare or anyone else, is better suited to outdoor performance than “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” not only because so much of it takes place in a forest but because of the way in which it commingles sweet, spacious romanticism and slip-on-a-banana-peel comedy. It’s just the kind of show you want to see on a balmy midsummer night—and Lear deBessonet’s Shakespeare in the Park production is just the kind of staging that it deserves. I’ve seen a couple of “Midsummers” that were as good as this one, foremost among them Eric Tucker’s sublime five-person 2015 Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival version, but none better.
Ms. deBessonet is a very big talent who’s been waiting in the wings until now, mainly occupying herself with the Public’s community-based Public Works “participatory theater” classical productions, which make use of amateur actors. The highest-profile show that she’d previously directed in New York was the Public Theater’s 2013 production of Bertolt Brecht’s “Good Person of Szechwan,” an outrageously imaginative vaudeville romp whose décor looked as if it had been recycled from the nearest alley. But while this “Midsummer” is a costlier undertaking with a big-name cast—Annaleigh Ashford, Danny Burstein, Kristine Nielsen, and Phylicia Rashad are among those present—it partakes of the same improvisatory sensibility, and does so with the same éclat.
While this isn’t a high-concept “Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the normal sense of the word, Ms. deBessonet’s approach to the play is nonetheless clear-cut: She’s staged it as if it were a Broadway musical. The casting of Ms. Ashford, Mr. Burstein and Ms. Nielsen, three of Broadway’s funniest comedians, as Helena, Bottom and Puck, underlines the slant of her production, a rom-com that’s 90% com and 10% rom….
It’s as if she’d staged the production specifically to disarm viewers who don’t know the play going in and are a little bit afraid of it: Every twist and turn of the knotty plot comes across with the sunlit clarity of a perfectly executed pratfall….
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Read the whole thing here.
A video featurette about Lear deBessonet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream: