What's not to love about a smartly directed, perfectly cast, energetically acted Central Park production of a Midsummer Night's Dream? Following the watery Romeo and Juliet, the Public Theater now offers a much lighter, jollier Shakespearean romance. Thanks to director Daniel Sullivan and his terrific troupe of actors, it's a consistently entertaining, frequently magical late-summer night's diversion.
The ever-popular comedy begins by introducing four young Athenian would-be lovers. Hermia (Mireille Enos) loves Lysander (Austin Lysy), but her father Egeus (George Morfogen) wants her to marry Demetrius (Elliot Villar). Meanwhile, Helena (Martha Plimpton) loves Demetrius, but he pines for Hermia. Plimpton-who is quickly becoming one of New York's most reliable stage actresses-earns plenty of laughs as the stubbornly smitten Helena. I am your Spaniel! she proclaims without a hint of embarrassment. Plimpton's Helena is equally amusing when both Lysander and Demetrius fall for her, due to spells cast by Oberon, King of the Fairies (Keith David), and his minion Puck (Jon Michael Hill).
Sullivan's casting of Laila Robins as the regal Titania, Queen of the Fairies, is particularly felicitous. Whether she's forcefully berating Oberon or foolishly wooing Nick Bottom (Jay O. Sanders), who has been turned into an ass by the mischievous Oberon, Robins throws herself into the role. Her Titania often turns up in the massive tree that dominates Eugene Lee's set. In one memorable scene Titania reclines on a branch while the fairies-played by young children wearing Ann Hould-Ward's stylish Victorian costumes-sing below her. It's a striking image, and Sullivan's use of the fairies is unusual and inventive throughout the play.
The director displays his flair for comedy in the scenes featuring the rustics who stage the love story Pyramus and Thisbe for the Athenian court. Sanders makes an aptly buffoonish Bottom (who plays Pyramus with misguided confidence), and Jesse Tyler Ferguson is just right as Francis Flute (a reluctant Thisbee). Jason Antoon also has hilarious moments as Tom Snout (a.k.a. the Wall). While the climactic Pyramus and Thisbe goes on a bit too long, it's nonetheless a comic high point.
All in all, this Midsummer has few dull moments and few disappointing performances. And it boasts delightfully uninhibited work by Robins, Plimpton, and Enos (all of whom shed bustles and petticoats along with their inhibitions), an enchanting band of pint-size fairies, and a top-notch Bottom.
As Hamlet would put it, get thee to A Midsummer Night's Dream.