Midsummer Night’s Dream Coming to an End in Central Park
The Summer of Love began with a tear-jerker tragedy of Romeo and his Juliet, and is about to finish up with an uproarious comedy of bewitchment and transformations, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Time is running out for you to partake of this gem. Sunday, September 9th is the last day Dream will be performed at Central Park for everyone who was there since about 7am, waiting faithfully for the free tickets.
Although I have seen Shakespeare in the Park performed with the sum total of a ladder and many fold-out chairs for props, the scenery director decided to take it up a notch for Dream. In the center of the stage stood a monolith of a tree with thick foliage and plenty of hardy branches upon which to lounge, make sweet love to an “ass” and perform acrobatics in general.
The casting, as usual, went to TV as well as Broadway stars. Keith David, playing Oberon, was most recognized for being the voice of Goliath from a popular 90’s cartoon “Gargoyles,” although he is a strong presence in both films and theater. Take heed, the audience at the play is made up of college students who can’t afford theater, those who once were those college students, and then of course volunteers, heroes and everyone who was able to donate loads of cash for front row seats.
There are no curtains, as the stage is under the open sky, with seats arranged in a semi-circle around it. As Hippolyta strode out on the stage, a hush fell over the audience. Without a word she showed her complete disdain for Theseus, husband-to-be and general bigwig Duke of Athens, and stomped off. With this starts a comedy of love unanswered and advances most unwanted.
The case of daughterly disobedience due to paternally unapproved love forced the beautiful, and incredibly annoying Hermia and her beloved Lysander to run away. They make it into the woods where we soon meet the fairies: Titania and her creepy court of child fairies dressed in lavish Victorian garb, Oberon in gray face paint giving him a corpse-like rather than fairy appearance, and his perverse and glitter-covered clown, Puck.
Oberon has the privilege of invisibility as he quickly tells the audience in an aside and soon he, as well as we, see Helena prostrating herself in front of her beloved Demetrius to convince him to give up the torch he carries for Hermia. Oberon takes pity, being in a bit of a love triangle himself, and begins the round of misunderstandings that propel the plot by telling Puck to bring him a flower smitten with Cupid’s arrow which can make a sleeping person awake to love the next person he or she sees. With this he also plans to make his defiant wife love something wile.
A great subplot consists of a number of villagers constructing a play to perform at Theseus’ wedding to Hippolyta, which they decide to rehearse in the dead of night in the very wood where mischief was afoot. In case something in all the misunderstood and unreturned love tugged at your heart strings, this ambling lot of fools are the perfect comic relief, as is the ironically tragic love story of Thisby and Pyramus that this all-male troupe finally performs.
This summer’s performances were by far my favorite. As always, there was a slightly unorthodox approach (the watery scenery and overt sexuality of Romeo and Juliet as well as acrobatics performed by a fairy in a French Maid costume and the mildly depraved magic tricks of Puck) in every case that made the play that much more interesting because, truth be told, Shakespearean English still gives me trouble.