The Mom here! I’m writing this after waking up from what was NOT a dream, although it certainly could have been. Glittering, shimmering scenery, colorful costumes, funky music, laughter, magical lighting, dancing, singing, silliness, confusion, fairies, plays within plays, weddings, “catfights”…all within a couple of hours, right in the middle of Central Park at The Delacorte Theater, in mid summer. The Public Theater’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Lear deBessonet, is, like a dream, an almost indescribable perfection.
As a full-time working single mom, every summer I have to decide whether or not I can spend the day waiting on line for free Shakespeare in the Park tickets. It’s never as easy as it used to be, simply waking up early, grabbing a blanket, a book and some snacks and heading out to relax until ticket distribution time. “Is it line-worthy?” I ask myself these days while juggling my million tasks. After experiencing this performance, the answer is definitely YES.
I have taught this play to high schoolers countless times, always having to draw out diagrams of all the different plots and sub-plots so the kids could understand it. It has never failed to get formerly disinterested teenagers to see that yes, this Shakespeare guy really did understand life and love and all the craziness that goes with the territory. Don’t know the story (actually..storIES)? The Playbill for this amazing performance breaks it down and explains it all on a one-page synopsis that I certainly could have used back then.
You’ll be hooked and entranced from the start, much like you had the juice of a magic flower squeezed into your eyes, as you watch this dream come true right before your eyes in the open air of our park. As you may already know, Hermia loves Lysander, but her father Egeus wants her to marry Demetrius. Hermia’s friend Helena loves Demetrius, but Demetrius loves Hermia, although he used to love Helena.
The actresses portraying the women, Shalita Grant as Hermia and Annaleigh Ashford as Helena, will capture you from their first lines as friends right through their rivalry and ultimate brawl, and back to their happy ending and mutual wedding night, of which you will become a part. They are funny, fierce, and fabulous talents, making the entire audience laugh – and maybe even see a bit of themselves – as they chase after unrequited love and lose themselves and their friendship over jealousy and misunderstandings, eventually waking up from “the dream” to become best friends again. Actors Kyle Beltran and Alex Hernandez, playing Lysander and Demetrius respectively, also gave strong performances as the objects of the women’s affections, both willingly and unwillingly!
And then there’s the “actors,” or The Mechanicals, as they’re known. They meet in the woods (the same woods in which an entire fairy world exists, and the same woods through which Hermia and Lysander plan to escape Athens) to rehearse for a play to be performed during the upcoming wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Danny Burstein, playing Nick Bottom, is at the top of a hysterical group of actors playing actors who can’t act. Acting as if you don’t have talent surely takes a lot of talent, and each actor in this little group was convincing and thoroughly entertaining. I dare you not to laugh as you watch this group of unprofessionals take on “serious acting.” At least one of them ends up making an…um…ass out of himself!
Leading the Fairy World with grace, elegance, and a commanding presence was Phylicia Rashad as Titania.
Richard Poe matched these qualities in his role as Oberon, and together they ruled the stage as they ruled the woods, with, of course, a little help from well-meaning and mischievous Puck (the awesome Kristine Nielsen), whose unintended mistake causes lots of hysterical confusion in the forest.
Is all of the above not enough for you? How about…
The Scenery: Just stunning. Twinkly and sparkly, a treehouse and a forest, deep purple lighting, and … the actual midsummer sky.
The Music: Played from up top of a beautiful treehouse, it’s upbeat, celebratory and will make you want to get up and dance. This is definitely not a snoozer.
The themes and the things it makes you think about: You can’t truly plan anything or control anything, no matter how hard you try or no matter if you possess a magic flower. Even then, things screw up. If you’re a Type A Superplanner like I am, it might help you to see this played out in front of you to realize that life’s gonna happen the way life’s gonna happen.
The Surprises: Now come on, I can’t tell you what they are! I’ll just say that this performance is very surprising. It’s fresh and unexpectedly modern.
I’m no theater critic; I am just a normal person that you would most likely find on that Shakespeare line. Maybe that’s who you are, too, so what are you waiting for? Get in line before the dream is over.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs until August 13th. For more information, go to publictheater.org