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The Public Theater

Three questions: Have you ever been in love with someone who didn’t love you back? (Please raise your hand.) Do you believe in fairies? (Please snap along with the crowd.) And finally: have you ever woken up and had to ask yourself what happened the night before? (Please join the actors in imitating a reggae air horn with appropriate gusto.)

The Public Theater Mobile Unit’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a party, and it’s the best kind. From start to finish, there is a wonderful feeling of inclusiveness that permeates the scene. When you take your seats in the theater, the actors are dancing and moving to a very fun playlist, and plenty of audience members are tapping their feet, moving their shoulders, or being encouraged to come dance. Seating is in the form of low bleachers that circle around the stage, making it feel as though the boundaries between the audience and the actors are as thin as the veil between fairies and mortals. And above our heads is a canopy of dreams – the slightly cheesy, ultimately sweet collection of green pennants on which the audience is asked to write what they dream of.

In this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena – the four young Athenians and the central characters, around whom madness and magic focused – are endlessly amusing both in sickness and in health. They are played more or less traditionally. Hermia is the principled heroine, Lysander her faithful lover; Demetrius is the stony-faced spurned suitor, and Helena is hopelessly, somewhat ridiculously, unrequitedly in love.

They are admirably serious lovers, and when Theseus levels the threat of obedience or death leveled against them, you truly empathize with the steely determination of Carolyn Kettig’s Hermia, and the loyal devotion of Jasai Chase-Owens’ Lysander. But when they truly shine is when they aren’t being serious. Helena (Rosanny Zayas) intersperses her longing professions of love for Demetrius with stolen, shamelessly lustful looks that can’t help but that endear her pathetic plight to the audience and the watching fairies. Bewitched Lysander and Demetrius (Leland Fowler), meanwhile, keep their audience in hysterics as they silently, acrobatically duel for Helena’s love. Under Puck’s influence and Jenny Koons’ excellent direction, they provide the perfect physical and comedic contrast to the heated insult battle between the two women. The sight of two lithe grown men crawling on their knees, puckering their lips, and showing off some impressive fight choreography was just one of many scenes from this Shakespearean comedy that the creative team mastered with an easygoing success.

It’s unclear when and where this particular production is set, but the play actors, dressed in uniforms representing everything from a Bean coffee shop barista to an FDNY firefighter, give the impression that they have just swept in off the bustling New York streets. Christopher Ryan Grant’s Nick Bottom, a character too often overdone, is the perfect combination of simple and proud. In the guise of a contractor, he radiates all the charisma and confidence of a knock-off Nathan Fillion – but, to the audience’s great delight, absolutely no self-awareness to go with it.

The Public’s Mobile Unit cast take an inherently fun play and electrify it with a youthful spirit that goes beyond the spirited dance party which kicks off the event. The trick is that they never take themselves too seriously. And yet once they have begun, there is a true air of magic that hangs over the production. Certainly the props, which strike the delicate balance between shamelessly flashy and yet never too overwhelming, help with this effect. Lengths of neon green shag are laid out to represent a forest bower. Bubbles blown by faithful fairy minions announce the arrival of King Oberon and Queen Titania, and petal-shaped confetti is thrown ceremoniously into the air whenever a spell is cast. But it is the actors themselves, who throw themselves headlong into their roles and make them their own, who mark this Midsummer Night’s Dream as one not to be missed.

  • Comedy
  • By William Shakespeare
  • Directed by Jenny Koons
  • Cast includes: Marinda Anderson, Jasai Chase-Owens, Leland Fowler, Christopher Ryan Grant, Merritt Janson, Carolyn Kettig, David Ryan Smith, Natalie Woolams-Torres, Rosanny Zayas
  • The Public Theater
  • Until 17 November 2018

About The Author

Editor & Reviewer (NYC)

Austin studied English language and literature at Fordham University in the Bronx, and realized her passion for theatre as a student abroad in London. She has worked as journalist at the Newtown Bee (Newtown, CT) and as a researcher for NBC News (New York, NY). She harbors an avid love for William Shakespeare and likes to carry a book with her wherever she goes. Usually found in or around New York City.

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