The forecasted thunderstorms didn’t materialize. It was a perfect summer night (July 28), and on stage was a perfectly enjoyable Free Shakespeare in the Park production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream” offered by the Public Theater and delightfully directed by Lear deBessonet. The treat runs through August 13.
The staging and acting are broad, which works fine for the comedy that lends itself to such a romp, especially in an outdoor setting. David Rockwell has provided a glorious design of trees suggesting a forest, Clint Ranmos has created a colorful panorama of costumes, Tyler Micoleau’s lighting is superb, along with Cookie Jordan’s creative hair, wig and makeup design. Chase Brock’s sprightly choreography blends neatly with the pop score approach under music director Jon Spurney.
In this overall context the performances by an appealing cast light up the show. Annaleigh Ashford as Helena, Shalita Grant as Hermia, Alex Herandez as Demetrius and Kyle Beltran as Lysander make enchanting lovers. Ashford especially gives a striking performance, cutting up in broad fashion in showing off her unqiue talent. She is often hilarious.
Another standout is the ever-reliable Danny Burstein as weaver Nick Bottom, who is wonderfully funny whether as the egotistic actor in the play travesty or when topped with the head of an ass as part of the fairy mischief. Richard Poe makes a stately Oberon, King of the Fairies, and Phylicia Rashad is impressive as Titania, his queen.
Plaudits are also due Bhavesh Patel as Theseus, Duke of Athens; De’Adre Aziza as his betrothed Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons; David Manis as Egeus, Hermia’s father; Justin Cunningham as Philostrate, Master of the Revels to Theseus, and the exuberant, very funny Kristine Nielson as Robin Goodfellow (Puck). Whether playing parts large or small in the huge ensemble, the collection of cast members makes for a vital company that delivers convincingly.
The portion of the Bard’s plot that would condemn Helena to death if she does not follow her father’s marital order leaps across the centuries to remind one of recent news of honor killings abroad of daughters who try to escape arranged marriages. (The Bard’s plays speak eloquently for themselves; In the recent “Julius Caesar” there was no need for a Trump look-alike with a red tie to make the point of corrupt power. It is all there in the durable text.)
Free Shakespeare in the Park continues to be one of New York’s great institutions. Whenever I attend I think of the visionary Joseph Papp and the battle he fought against then Parks Commissioner Robert Moses to establish the right to gain a place in the park to bring free Shakespeare to the public. I would recommend that in pre-show announcements tribute always be paid to Papp so that he is never forgotten. At the Delacorte Theater, entrance at 81st Street and Central Park West. Reviewed August 1, 2017.