Doan Ly, Dennis Parlato, Gretchen Hall, and Greg Wooddell
in A Midsummer Night's Dream
(© Richard Termine)
Doan Ly, Dennis Parlato, Gretchen Hall, and Greg Wooddell
in A Midsummer Night's Dream
(© Richard Termine)
Can't you just picture the families of the 25th Century huddled on their picnic blankets as they thrill to the poetry, romance, and absurdity of William Shakespeare? They'll certainly want to if the performance they witness is anywhere near as lively as Shakespeare on the Sound's A Midsummer Night's Dream, as helmed by new artistic director Joanna Settle and aurally enhanced by the award-winning musician Stew.

Staged on a winding, wooden catwalk that transects a coveside park in Rowayton, Connecticut (the show moves to Greenwich in July), Settle's highly physicalized rendition has a bit of the carnival midway about it. Players are constantly racing by, arms pumping, or slithering onstage lizardlike, or draping themselves from a convenient tree. At one point, the scorned Helena (a nicely homespun Gretchen Hall) tries to hurl herself over the park wall to elude what she perceives as her tormentors.

Perhaps only Stew -- the genius behind Passing Strange -- would have guessed that the blues would be just the right genre for Bottom (a hilariously over-the-top Ty Jones) to bemoan his discomfort at finding himself suddenly rendered asinine? (Costumer Ilona Somogyi gives him goggles, floppy burlap ears, and hoofed armlets for an on-the-spot makeover.) This donkey is so adorable that the "O, how I love thee!" lullabye delivered by Titania (the lush-voiced, lithe Doan Li) seems almost reasonable. In fact, it's worth braving rush-hour traffic just to hear him call out "This-BEH!" street-style or flop about like a fish on a hook in what is surely the most belaboredly acrobatic death scene ever devised.

In keeping with tradition, Li also plays Hippolyta, the conquered Amazonian queen unwillingly betrothed to Theseus, Duke of Athens (Mickey Solis, commanding both as worldly lord and as his spirit counterpart, Oberon). The pair's electrically charged connection brings out the play's throughline of love's mysterious fits, shifts, and starts. Stew provides the perfect sound effect for every instance in which a love potion smites an unsuspecting sleeper: a Barry White wah-wah chord.

Albert Jones gives us a strappingly straight-arrow Lysander, and Gregory Wooddell is a snotty prepster as Demetrius; he's dim, spoiled, bored, and invariably great fun to watch. Conversely, in the key role of Puck, Oberon's mischievous minion, Jesse J. Perez is inexplicably lackluster, and his unscripted interjections break the magical, otherworldly mood; while Marjan Neshat's portrayal of Hermia -- doubly adored, then doubly rejected -- is likewise pedestrian.