So. There is a wall in Lear deBessonet’s highly conventional staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the last production of The Public’s Shakespeare in the Park season at The Delacorte.
But it’s a nice wall. It has no feelings about immigration or refugee status.
This wall—or, rather, the actor inside the wall costume—has no partisan business here, whatsoever. Rather, it’s just an unwieldy block, a frock worn by one of the Mechanicals, the band of Athenian artists led by Nick Bottom (Danny Burstein), who are rehearsing a play they hope to perform for the Duke of Athens.
While last month’s “Julius Caesar” delved into politics to the consternation of many, this “Midsummer Night’s Dream” will attract no protestors or TV satellite trucks. Sometimes, a wall is just a wall. And this “Dream” is just classic Delacorte eye candy.
DeBessonet has assembled an enviable cast (Burstein is joined by Annaleigh Ashford, Phylicia Rashad and Kristine Nielsen) for a lush production of the multi-pronged Shakespeare comedy set in an enchanted forest, where the sprite Puck (Nielsen) meddles with a magical love potion to comic, and usually unintentional results.
This is one of Shakespeare’s most frequently staged plays, and the classic tropes employed here include mistaken identities, young lovers who don’t realize they’re meant for each other, and a good healthy dose of stubbornness on the part of several people who should know better. Forget walls. Here, it’s wills that need to be torn down.
In one corner of the forest, Demetrius (Alex Hernandez) has the general’s approval to marry his daughter, Hermia (Shalita Grant), but it’s a safe bet Demetrius ought to be with Helena (Ashford, brimming with sass and spitfire), instead. In another, the fairy queen Titania (Rashad), is reluctant to surrender to her king (Richard Poe) a changeling boy, her adopted son.
Bhavesh Patel and De’Adre Aziza only come in at the play’s beginning and end, as the Duke of Athens and his Amazonian bride—deBessonet has them on hand for flash and regality, more than to move along the entrenched plot.
The real action takes place with the four young people: Grant’s Hermia, who hopes to marry Lysander (Kyle Beltran), against her father’s wishes, and Ashford’s Helena, who chases Demetrius the way an unloved puppy might beg her human for attention … “Sylvia,” anyone?
The Mechanicals are ostensibly led by Peter Quince (Robert Joy, of “CSI: NY”), but it’s Burstein whom we focus on, as the egomaniacal ham Bottom, whom Puck has turned into half-an-ass—a metamorphosis that merely bolsters Bottom’s arrogance, leading him into bed with Rashad’s bosomy, also mischievous, Tatiana.
Yes, Puck manages to work everything out by the end. Nielsen’s fans will delight in her comically twitchy presence, seen recently in “Present Laughter” and “You Can’t Take It With You.”
Marcelle Davies-Lashley provides rich vocal interludes as the “fairy singer,” albeit a fairy singer who knows where to get her hands on a killer gold flapper dress. Her jazz- and blues-derived solos help bridge the play’s seemingly disconnected parts, and her modern attire drives home the story’s timelessness.
David Rockwell’s magical set design has musicians performing in an elevated hut of sorts, across stage from a tree with a playground-like slide wrapped around its sturdy base. You can be sure the slide is put to good use by many a forest-dweller.
The final wedding scene is a rousing affair with the Mechanicals performing to the Duke’s delight, and a string of festive bulbs raised behind the stage. It was all Shakespeare in Central Park, not Shakespeare roaming the halls of Congress.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” through Aug. 13 at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Free tickets are distributed beginning at 12 p.m. the day of each performance. For complete information, see publictheater.org.
Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn