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Review Roundup: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Starring Annaleigh Ashford, Danny Burstein, and More at Shakespeare in the Park


A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Public Theater is currently presenting its Free Shakespeare in the Park production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, directed by Lear deBessonet with choreography by Chase Brock. The show officially opened last night, Monday, July 31 and runs through Sunday, August 13.

The complete cast of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM features Annaleigh Ashford (Helena); De'Adre Aziza (Hippolyta); Kyle Beltran (Lysander); Min Borack (Fifth Fairy); Vinie Burrows (First Fairy, Peaseblossom); Danny Burstein (Nick Bottom); Justin Cunningham (Philostrate); Marcelle Davies-Lashley (Fairy Singer); Austin Durant (Snug); Shalita Grant (Hermia); Keith Hart (Third Fairy); Alex Hernandez (Demetrius); Jeff Hiller (Francis Flute); Robert Joy (Peter Quince); Patricia Lewis (Fourth Fairy); David Manis (Egeus, Cobweb); Pamela McPherson-Cornelius (Second Fairy); Patrena Murray (Snout); Kristine Nielsen (Puck); Bhavesh Patel (Theseus); Richard Poe (Oberon); Phylicia Rashad (Titania); Joe Tapper (Robin Starveling); Judith Wagner (Mote); Warren Wyss (Mustardseed); Benjamin Ye (Changeling Boy); and Rosanny Zayas (Understudy).

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Jesse Green, New York Times: Try as I might, I could not discern in The Public Theater's Central Park production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" a single reference to Donald J. Trump. What a relief!

Happily, the director Lear deBessonet doesn't go there in this production, which opened on Monday night at the Delacorte Theater. Neither period nor modern in style, it does not insist on any one-for-one relevance. Rather, Ms. deBessonet has brought to the play the high spirits and communitarian pageantry that made her previous park outings - including Public Works offerings like "The Winter's Tale" and "The Odyssey" - so embraceable. She's a director for everyone.

Matt Windman, amNY: Except for a few distinct touches - older actors playing the fairies, a tree house containing a live band and ad-libs directed to the audience, to name a few - deBessonet's production is relatively straightforward, with a traditional, simple set design of large trees full of twinkling lights.
This shifts the focus to the terrific performances of Phylicia Rashad (regal and loving as the fairy queen Titania), Danny Burstein (eager and energetic as the hammy actor Bottom), Kristine Nielsen (merry and mischievous as the nimble spirit Puck), Shalita Grant (unusually bold as Hermia) and Annaleigh Ashford (ingeniously quirky as the spurned but tenacious Helena).

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: While not all of the performances are effective, the standouts in the ensemble provide ample compensation. Ashford is deliriously funny as the romantically frustrated - a trait true of virtually all the characters - Helena, mixing broad physical shtick with a vocal delivery that mines consistent laughs even from such lines as "Dead, or asleep?" Burstein recalls Bert Lahr with his superb vaudevillian-style turn as Bottom (although even he can't prevent the Rude Mechanicals' play-within-a-play from feeling endless). Comic veteran Nielsen makes for a devilishly sly and unconventional Puck. And Richard Poe's Oberon and Phylicia Rashad's Titania are elegantly regal, even when the latter character, thanks to an errant magic potion, has fallen in love with a donkey-headed Bottom. Shalita Grant, Kyle Beltran and Alex Hernandez infuse their portrayals of the love-struck quartet's other members with energetic physicality

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: 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.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, Newsday: The one turn people are likely to remember is Annaleigh Ashford's as Helena, one of the four young lovers who supply the romance. She has emerged as a sublimely gifted comedienne in Broadway shows such as "You Can't Take It With You," with impeccable timing and delightfully unexpected line readings. Here she makes a hilarious entrance and then ratchets things up further as a lovelorn damsel - at one point she cozied up to a theatergoer and drank his water. But after a while, her efforts only bring diminishing returns.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: "A Midsummer Night's Dream" - Shakespeare's kooky combo platter of bewitched couples, trickster sprites and loopy laborers - reminds that the course of true love never runs smoothly.

Happily, The Public Theater's revival of the classic comedy is a high-spirited hodgepodge that glides along with just a few hiccups and so-so performances.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: But this Midsummer belongs to the quartet of squabbling youngsters dashing through the forest of Athens, drugged into confusion and betrayal by fairy love potions. Annaleigh Ashford, as Helena, offers a divinely funny portrait of romantic desperation-she works offbeat wonders on every line-and Shalita Grant's Hermia slides memorably from pertness to fury; Kyle Beltran and Alex Hernandez provide strong support, often physically, as their changeable swains. Clint Ramos's fanciful costumes and Justin Levine's brassy-funky '70s-flavored score (sung by the charismatic Marcelle Davies-Lashley) add to the swirl of pleasure. DeBessonet's production welcomes the spirits of community theater and theater community. You leave with a lovestruck smile.

Sara Holdren, Vulture: To his credit, Danny Burstein as Bottom registers something of this line's breathtaking sensuality in his response, but not because Titania (Phylicia Rashad) puts much into her delivery. No one does. Desire-its thrill and its frustration-is athletically played at in this Midsummer but never really registered on a gut level. The lovers (Hernandez, Annaleigh Ashford as Helena, Shalita Grant as Hermia, and Kyle Beltran as Lysander) are all charming actors who handle the text with relative dexterity (though Ashford has a tendency to treat the language as Silly Putty, to be stretched and bounced for laughs rather than plumbed for true feeling).

Thom Geier, The Wrap: There are no Trump stand-ins at the new production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" which opened Monday at the outdoor Delacorte Theatre as part of The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park series.

Instead, the Bardically named director Lear deBessonet delivers an uneven, down-the-middle version of one of Shakespeare's most familiar comedies that emphasizes the broad, sitcommy action among the various sets of mismatched lovers.

David Cote, What Should We Do: Besides Burstein, DeBessonet has a terrific group of actors at her disposal: Annaleigh Ashford as the lovelorn, long-suffering Helena; the spitfire Shalita Grant as her diminutive rival, Hermia; Bhavesh Patel and De'Adre Aziza as the mutually wary, soon-to-be-married duke Theseus and Amazonian queen Hippolyta; and Jeff Hillier as Francis Flute, one of the "rude mechanicals" who, with Bottom, put on a "lamentable comedy" about star-crossed lovers. A lanky mooncalf who speaks in a lisping upper register, Hillier may be the funniest thing in the show. His Francis initially begs not to play a woman's part (Thisbe), but once the dress and veil go on, he takes to his role with a campy intensity. Also graceful and lovely is Phylicia Rashad as fairy queen Titania, and I adored the cheeky, swaggering turn by Kristine Nielsen: Puck in pajamas with a pageboy 'do.

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