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'A Midsummer Night's Dream': A Romp in Fairyland

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Of all Shakespeare's comedies, one that is usually regarded as foolproof is A Midsummer Night's Dream. An uneven production by the Classic Stage Company, however, puts that theory to the test.

The good news in the CSC revival is that it brings Anthony Heald back to the New York stage opposite the admirable Bebe Neuworth, and their doubling in the roles of Theseus and Hippolyta and Oberon and Titania provide at least one solid link to what Shakespeare actually wrote.

Much of the rest of the evening is a sort of mish-mash of ideas, some of which work but many of which don't, so that in the end it is difficult to discern exactly what the director, Tony Speciale, his designer and costumer were striving for.

A Midsummer Night's Dream follows a troupe of star-crossed lovers into the fairy-infested Athenian woods, where everything goes wrong. It is a fanciful play, almost entirely of Shakespeare's own invention, though the story of Pyramus and Thisbe is from Ovid, one of Shakespeare's favorite authors. Yet it is apparent from the outset the CSC team doesn't entirely trust the playwright to entertain a 21st-century audience.

For reasons unclear, the opening scene is interrupted by a thunderstorm, which is soon followed by a deluge of rose petals from the flies (that possibly inspired by Titania's reference to her "flowery bed"). Later, Oberon and Puck munch on popcorn and sip a soda while watching the shenanigans of the mismatched lovers. There are some line revisions and a bit of unscripted interplay with the audience.

As Hermia and Helena, Christina Ricci and Halley Wegryn Gross could be refugees from "Bachelorette," delivering Shakespeare's couplets like rap lyrics in a whiny voice. As Lysander and Demetrius, Nick Gehlfuss and Jordan Dean are a pair of beefcake cover boys. In case the audience might be nodding off, all four eventually strip to their underwear and engage in some sexy horse play -- literally at one point when the girls mount the boys' shoulders and have a go at each other, pulling hair and spitting invective.

Even the mechanicals are rather dull, although their actual performance of that "most lamentable comedy" of Pyramus and Thisbe is amusing. Andrea Lauer's costumes, which put Puck in a red-striped clown suit or a nondescript furry animal costume with huge ears and have Titania in black-leather dominatrix gear, are imaginative if not entirely germane. The ass's head that winds up on Bottom is first-rate.