Remembrance of Whatevuh

Grease and A Midsummer Night's Dream revisit familiar territory

Like Grease, A Midsummer Night's Dream is another of those works so frequently revived that everybody knows it by heart (though probably not the same "everybody" who knows Grease). I wasn't around for the original, but I lived through the two productions that defined the play for our time, Peter Brook's and Alvin Epstein's. To my delight, keeping them in my head has never dulled the Dream for me: Other productions may not have measured up to the best, but they've all found access to some part of the work's eternal freshness; in the several dozen I've reviewed, I can't remember one that spoiled it completely. Shakespeare anchored the piece in truths that apparently make it impossible to ruin.

Fairies of the London night? Keith David, Laila Robins, Jay O. Sanders in 
Midsummer.
photo: Michal Daniel
Fairies of the London night? Keith David, Laila Robins, Jay O. Sanders in Midsummer.

Details

Grease
By Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street
212-307-4100

A Midsummer Night's Dream
By William Shakespeare
Delacorte Theater
Central Park
212-539-8500

Not that you'd say Daniel Sullivan's Central Park revival was anywhere near ruination, though his ideas about it, like his casting, seem scattershot and uneven. I guess I understand Ann Hould-Ward's vaguely Edwardian costumes, but why is Hermia's father (George Morfogen) an Orthodox archbishop? The fairies being night creatures, Sullivan's fancy makes them London-at-night creatures: Jon Michael Hill's opera-caped Puck is the glummest sprite who ever made mischief, and Laila Robins's gowned, corseted Titania confronts Keith David's frock-coated Oberon with the frosty hauteur of a dowager duchess. Robins doesn't really begin to show her rich expressiveness as an actress until she uncorsets, literally as well as metaphorically; the same is true of Martha Plimpton, who begins as the starchiest Helena ever, only warming to the role as she sheds her outer garments. Austin Lysy's Lysander is very good, Elliot Villar's Demetrius well-spoken. Sullivan's best ideas include having children, all excellent, play the lesser fairies, and playing the "mechanicals" as ordinary guys rather than riotous cutups, proving that Shakespeare's lines, said believably, trigger all the laughs you need. If this isn't a Dream to blow its predecessors out of memory, it's one that will do pleasantly for now—a good step up from some recent Park productions.

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