The Classic Stage Company’s sexy and jubilant production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream features an eclectic but very effective cast including film actress Christina Ricci, musical theater star Bebe Neuwirth, and downtown playwright-performers Taylor Mac and David Greenspan.
Tony Speciale’s modern-dress staging, which uses a trimmed version of the text, is marked by a giant curved wall of mirrors, allowing it to reflect the rose petals and black mulch that cover the floor of the theater.
While the campy “Pyramus and Thisbe” play-within-a-play is strangely restrained (although Greenspan’s Francis Flute provides a dainty Thisbe), the rest of the production explodes with imagination and an overload of costumes and props. Titania’s fairies, for instance, are portrayed as circus freaks. The cast is also allowed to ad-lib and occasionally improvise some lines directly to the audience.
The young Athenian lovers Hermia (Ricci) and Helena (Halley Wegryn Gross) are made to look almost identical. The same goes for their very buff beaus Lysander (Jordan Dean) and Demetrius (Nick Gehlfuss). Their scenes in the woods are played up with maximum physical comedy, with all four appearing in just white underwear. (You can even spot Ricci’s back and lower-stomach tattoos.)
Ricci, who made her Broadway debut last season in the Donald Margulies drama Time Stands Still, has some trouble with the language, but acquits herself well and amusingly portrays Hermia as a pampered and quirky rich girl.
As Hippolyta, the conquered Amazon queen, Neuwirth gives the kind of stone-cold stares that made her famous as Lilith on Cheers and Frasier. Later on, as the fairy queen Titania, she transforms into a hot dominatrix, having loud sex with the donkey-headed Bottom (Steven Skybell) under a bed of sheets.
Mac was an inspired choice for Oberon’s mischievous and magical servant Puck. He makes surprise entrances from openings in the mirrors and dons lavish clown costumes. At one point, he and Oberon (Anthony Heald) sit and enjoy movie popcorn and soft drinks while observing the youths go nuts in the forest.
This has been an especially strong season for Classic Stage, which previously produced an absolutely magnificent revival of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard starring Dianne Wiest and Brecht’s rarely seen historical drama Galileo with F. Murray Abraham. Here’s hoping that its next season, which will include a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Passion directed by John Doyle and starring Melissa Errico and Judy Kuhn, will be just as fulfilling.