First to say, A Midsummer Night's Dream at the newly built Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn, is jaw-dropping great. When you tell its creator Julie Taymor, she shrugs and says, Well, it's Shakespeare's play. Uh, yes, but what Taymor has done with a work you know so well is utterly astounding, melding storytelling techniques she learned studying Asian puppetry with the bard's language and whimsy. Collaborating with composer Eliot Goldenthal, she has taken what we admire most about her innovative The Lion King, Titus Andronicus, The Tempest, and even the beleaguered Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark to a new level. First rate too are the performances she elicits from an ensemble headed by her Puck, a pint sized British actress named Kathryn Hunter, Oberon, her master (David Harewood), Titania (Tina Benko), and Bottom (Max Casella), to single out some of the fine acting.
Then, the visuals: for its inaugural play -- Theatre for a New Audience seems built for this production -- this venue combines elegance, and a cavernous black space ideal for the pulleys, videos, mechanisms that are signature Julie Taymor. The props are all very simple: some giant white sheets, hoisted aloft to form a circus-like tent, unspooled to lay white ground, crafted as a hammock for lovers, plus pillows from IKEA, bamboo poles, painted silver and suspended to make a magic forest -- viewed from three sides in the intimacy of the 299 seat theater. No detail is too small: Bottom's ass head is self-mechanized, so that his snout moves to speak, to kiss. An astroturfed Barkalounger is equally good for a snooze as for love-making. A lion's mane is a halo of paintbrushes. A tall man who is a moon in the hysterical play within a play of Pyramus and Thisbe, Shakespeare's own comedic take on Romeo and Juliet, wears a light bulb. Simple, Taymor agrees, but also complicated to stage properly. Add to that a corps of children: dancers, singers and gymnasts who turn into playful animals, fairies, or wedding guests. You want this dream to go on forever.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.