The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0503  Monday, 4 November 2013


From:        Hardy Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         November 4, 2013 at 7:14:18 AM EST

Subject:    When the Sky Is No Limit


[Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from today’s The New York Times. –Hardy]


Julie Taymor takes on Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and inaugurates the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, the first proper home for the Theater for a New Audience.


When the Sky Is No Limit

By Ben Brantley


There was no way that Julie Taymor was ever going to dream a little “Dream.” The director who redefined spectacle on Broadway for better (“The Lion King”) and for worse (“Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”) has now given New York a “Midsummer Night’s Dream” that doesn’t so much reach for the heavens as roll around in them, with joyous but calculated abandon.


You see, for Ms. Taymor, the sky is not the limit. It’s a supple canvas to be stretched and bent to the whims of the imagination. Her eye-popping take on the canon’s most enchanted comedy, which opened on Sunday night at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, seems to turn the very firmament into a set of silk sheets, equally suitable for sex and sleep.


This “Midsummer Night’s Dream” inaugurates the Polonsky, the sleek, new headquarters (and first proper home) for the Theater for a New Audience. And this production is a happy consummation for a company that, under its founding artistic director Jeffrey Horowitz, has devoted more than three decades to conjuring epic landscapes in small spaces.


More exciting, perhaps — at least to those who follow theater as a pageant of artists and egos — is that “Dream” confirms Ms. Taymor’s reputation as the cosmic P. T. Barnum of contemporary stagecraft. Having turned a Disney animated movie, “The Lion King,” into an exotic but child-friendly carnival that’s been packing them in since its New York debut in 1997, Ms. Taymor failed to work similar magic on a Marvel comic-book hero known as Spidey.


[ . . . ]


So you’re probably going to feel a bit nervous when you catch a glimpse of the ropes and harnesses waiting to be deployed. I’m here to report that you can heave a sigh of relief (or disappointment, if you’re a ghoul). “Spider-Man,” it seems, was just a dry run for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” This time, Ms. Taymor holds on to her wings, and keeps her production and ambitions aloft.


The $2.4 million budget for “Dream” is but a fraction of the $75 million lavished on “Spider-Man.” But it still comes across as a really big show. It is also, as the maiden production of a new theater complex, an auspicious reminder of what vast imagination can achieve in close quarters.


The Samuel H. Scripps Mainstage, which seats 299, is an elegant variation on the basic black-box theater. The first thing you see upon entering is a lone, spotlighted bed center stage. The unwitting might assume they’re in for a fashionably minimalist production.


But as soon as a little fellow in a bowler hat (who turns out to be Puck, played by Kathryn Hunter) crawls into that bed, it starts to grow. And grow and grow, until you expect it to break through the ceiling. The same might be said of the show itself.


In retelling Shakespeare’s story of mortal and immortal lovers lost in a bewitched Athenian wood, Ms. Taymor has sought to conjure the sort of Jungian visions that are bred in the fertile fields of sleep. And with the assistance of what is surely the most adventurous design team of the season — and a very large (and largely able) cast — she transforms bed and bedding into a sylvan, starry wonderland.


An immense sheet rises, falls and twists itself to become a confining roof, a vast sky, a writhing forest floor and an amorous bower fit for a queen of the fairies. Swatches of gauzy white cloth morph into transporting wings. And when the play’s central romantic quadrangle of Athenian youths turns vicious, the myriad sprites who are always standing by provide the squabblers with an endless supply of pillows to fight it out.


The basic palette for Es Devlin’s set is white and black. That color scheme is carried out all the way into the look of the play’s reigning fairies, the ivory-pale Titania (a regally funny Tina Benko with a fairy-lighted bodice) and the ebony-black Oberon (a magisterial David Harewood).


Sven Ortel’s projections and Donald Holder’s lighting meld shadow and substance into patterns of ferns and leaves and — for the dazzling and hilarious pre-intermission scene — orgasmic fireworks of floral color. And Ms. Taymor makes (mostly) revitalizing use of some of her best-known tricks, including Asian-inspired shadow and stick puppetry. (Theatergoers with long memories will inevitably think also of Peter Brook’s landmark, white-box acrobatic “Dream” of 1970.)


And have I mentioned Constance Hoffman’s costumes, which range from fancy cartoon court attire to fairy outfits that might have been fashioned from the underside of a mushroom? Or Matt Tierney’s disorienting astral sound design? Or the ingeniously mixed music of Elliot Goldenthal, which ranges from anxious jazz riffs to sustained, ethereal lullabies?


Let’s see, what else? Oh, yes, the cast members. There are a lot of them, including a delightful horde of children.  [ . . . ]


But you don’t go to a Taymor production for the acting, or — let’s be honest — to exercise your deeper feelings. While I think you could make an argument for a sustained thematic interpretation here, this “Dream” exists more as a glittering necklace of breathtaking moments than as an emotionally affecting whole.


[ . . . ]


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