Julie Taymor is back. After disappearing for a short period following the Spiderman on Broadway collision (she recently settled in court with the producers), she has returned to her Shakespearean roots with A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the recently built Polonsky Shakespeare Theater in the heart of BAM. The experience exceeded my expectations. Any theatergoer who is fascinated by Taymor’s creative mind and passion will not be disappointed.
Having just visited Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, I was happy to be to find a similar space that allows the audience to sit on all sides of a narrow stage that provides a certain level of intimacy to the theater goer. It made me feel ready for a new Shakespeare experience.
From the moment the production began, I felt confident Taymor would remain faithful to the play and to Shakespeare’s vision. The first act starts with the shrewd Puck (played brilliantly by Kathryn Hunter), one of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters, going to sleep on a sheet that rises to the ceiling. It creates a magical effect and serves as the impetus of everything that is to come in the next three hours. It gives the play a dreamy look and feel, and when the characters begin to question if the events that unfold in their own story are a dream, you can’t help begin to wonder the same thing yourself.
There is so much to love about this show: the ultra-talented and diverse cast, Constance Hoffman’s fanciful costumes, puppetry, Donald Holder’s lighting and use of shadows, the sound design and the faithful delivery of a beloved story. First of all, there are fairies – 20 of them, all children cast by Taymor. They add a layer of magic and surrealism to the show, leaping on and off the stage on bamboo poles, flying through the stage dressed in white. Then there are lovers lost in the woods (played by Lilly Englert, Jake Horowitz, Mandi Masden and Zach Appelman) whose reality gets confused with Puck’s magic. Then there are the most memorable moments between Oberon and Titania, played by Tina Benko and David Harewood. They glisten when they are on stage and their chemistry is fierce. Lastly, the Rude Mechanicals, the players commissioned to put on a dramatic play as part of the upcoming nuptial celebration of Duke Theseus of Athens (played by Roger Clark) and his reluctant bride, Queen Hippolyta (played by Okwui Okpokwasili) are quite a spectacle. The group features Joe Grifasi, William Youmans and the wonderful Max Casella (of Doogie Houser fame) as Nick Bottom and they are a bonafide hoot – particularly Casella when he is transformed into an ass (yes, I mean donkey) and is courted by the magnificent Titania.
The result? Shakespearean ecstasy. May Taymor continue to return to NYC theater again and again and again. She has created a beautiful production filled with dreams, magic and creativity.
End note: While I did not take my children, I could see this being the perfect introduction for any child over the age of 10 or 11.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” plays at the Theatre for a New Audience through Jan. 12th. Tickets start at $75.
Disclosure: I was given a complimentary ticket to facilitate this review but all opinions are my own.