Lord, what fools these mortals, and fairies, and royals be!
Director Lear deBessonet’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Delacorte is filled with charm and hilarity, beautiful music and magic. It’s so much fun that it’s hard to say what the best part is. Oh, yes, I know: it’s Annaleigh Ashford as Helena, who loves Demetrius (Alex Hernandez), who only has eyes for Hermia (Shalita Grant), who is enamored of Lysander (Kyle Beltran).
Annaleigh Ashford and Alex Hernandez in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream;’ photo: Joan Marcus.
They are all remarkable performances, but oh that Annaleigh! She can get more laughs with a crook of her little finger than most actors can manage with their entire bodies. It’s a sign of the remarkable talent of the cast that when Ashford is offstage, you’re not holding your breath until she returns. All these lovers are simply perfect. Theseus (Bhavesh Parel) and his Amazon fiancée Hippolyta (De’Adre Aziza) have swapped their former enmity for affection, a very real and proud affection. The pajama-clad Puck (Kristine Nielson) first confuses, then clears, the action—all while marveling at the foolishness of mortals. But there’s plenty of foolishness for the fairies (all senior citizens in nightclothes, a delightful touch) and their leaders—Titania (Phylcia Rashad) and Oberon (Joe Tapper) are also knocked sideways by love’s sway.
Richard Poe and Phylicia Rashad (foreground) in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream;’ photo: Joan Marcus.
And I haven’t even mentioned the marvelous interstitial music by a six-man band and belter of a front woman (Marcelle Davies-Lashley). Or the wondrous Danny Burstein, who delivers genuine pathos and comedy as Bottom. And the genius of the workingmen’s presentation of Pyramus and Thisbe, led by Jeff Hiller in drag as the female lead. Every time he twirls his veil or swings his hips the audience is in the palm of his hand.
Patrena Murray, Robert Joy, Jeff Hiller, and Danny Burstein in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream;’ photo: Joan Marcus.
There are a lot of different story lines in the air of Midsummer. It is to deBessonet’s credit that we are never confused by all the lovers and their shifting passions. The richly magical set by David Rockwell moves as smoothly and entertainingly as the shifting lover’s desires, and when the lights twinkle and the music plays and these sublimely talented performers speak and search and love, we are as enchanted as poor Nick Bottom. But, thankfully, without the ass’s head.
Phylicia Rashad and Danny Burstein in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream;’ photo: Joan Marcus.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream presented by the Public Theater at the Delacorte Theatre, Central Park, running through August 13, 2017. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Lear deBessonet; choreography by Chase Brock; scenic design by David Rockwell; costume design by Clint Ramos; lighting Design by Tyler Micoleau; sound design by Jessica Paz; hair, wig and makeup design by Cookie Jordan; original music by Justin Levine. Cast: Annaleigh Ashford (Helena), De’Adre Aziza (Hippolyta), Kyle Beltran (Lysander), Vinie Burrows (First Fairy, Peaseblossom), Danny Burstein (Nick Bottom), Justin Cunningham (Philostrate), Marcelle Davies-Lashley (Fairy Singer), Austin Durant (Snug), Shalita Grant (Hermia), Keith Hart (Third Fairy), Alex Hernandez (Demetrius), Jeff Hiller (Francis Flute), Robert Joy (Peter Quince), Patricia Lewis (Fourth Fairy), David Manis (Egeus, Cobweb), Pamela McPherson-Cornelius (Second Fairy), Patrena Murray (Snout), Kristine Nielsen (Puck), Bhavesh Patel (Theseus), Richard Poe (Oberon), Phylicia Rashad (Titania), Joe Tapper (Robin Starveling), Judith Wagner (Mote), Warren Wyss (Mustardseed), Benjamin Ye (Changeling Boy), and Rosanny Zayas (Understudy).
Cover: Phylicia Rashad and Benjamin Ye (center) in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream;’ photo: Joan Marcus.