Monday, August 13, 2007

A Midsummer Must-See

Finally someone got it – and for the first time ever I was left doubled over in laughter by a staging of a Shakespeare comedy. With the latest offering from The Public Theater’s annual Bard-fest in Central Park, director Daniel Sullivan has accomplished the enormous task of translating the “feeling” of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – Victorian times’ equivalent of Hollywood’s summer tent-pole blockbuster – to modern audiences. From Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes (gothic creations that on the child actor fairies conjure up a gorgeous creepiness that would do Tim Burton proud) to the awe-inspiring scenic and lighting design by Eugene Lee and Michael Chybowski, respectively, to the finely tuned veteran cast of which Martha Plimpton and Tim Blake Nelson only serve to remind us that the busiest character actors in film owe their chops to the stage. (And Plimpton and Nelson are often upstaged by equally able players like Mireille Enos as Hermia and Jay O. Sanders as Nick Bottom.) But perhaps best of all, the play-within-a-play performed by the “rude mechanicals” at the happy end channels all the sheer idiocy and delight of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the combination of lowbrow sight gags and highbrow wit taken to the extreme and then beyond, to the point of an utter discomfort that can only be released through hysterical laughter. Which makes total sense. After all, you can’t get more British than Shakespeare and Monty Python. Finally American theater has a director savvy enough to incorporate a culture, not just update with a slice of apple pie.

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