Shakespeare's comedy begins in Athens, where the city's ruler, Theseus (Anthony Heald), is preparing to wed the captured Amazon queen, Hippolyta (Bebe Neuwirth). However, Neuwirth's richly expressive non-verbal mannerisms clearly indicate that such a union is being made under duress.
As is the case in many productions of this play, the actors portraying Theseus and Hippolyta double as the fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania, who are experiencing their own discord. Oberon enlists the aid of Puck (Taylor Mac) to play a trick on Titania, which Puck does by making her fall in love with Nick Bottom (Steven Skybell), an amateur actor who the trickster fairy has magically given the head of a donkey.
The plot also involves two pairs of would-be lovers, Hermia (Christina Ricci) and Lysander (Nick Gehlfuss) and Helena (Halley Wegryn Gross) and Demetrius (Jordan Dean), whose affections become inverted and entangled by the meddling Puck.
Mac captures his character's devil-may-care attitude and establishes a good rapport with the audience whom he occasionally addresses with impromptu bits of dialogue that are not to be found in Shakespeare's original (such as references to skinny jeans and the importance of "stage urgency"). He also pulls off the assortment of bizarrely fabulous costumes given him by designer Andrea Lauer that underscores Puck's whimsical and ever-changing nature.
Heald's Oberon is commanding yet mischievous, and the visual gag of Oberon and Puck sitting with popcorn and sodas as they watch a fight break out between the confused lovers is definitely a high point. His Theseus seems a little less sure of himself, which opens up the power dynamics of the Theseus-Hippolyta relationship in an intriguing way.
Neuwirth plays off of this and is able to make Hippolyta's journey within the play crystal clear, although she is not as authoritative as one might expect as the fairy queen.
Skybell impresses with a comic pomposity that enlivens all of his scenes. As for his fellow "rude mechanicals," Rob Yang's Peter Quince exudes a bashful charm while Chad Lindsey and James Patrick Nelson amuse as Tom Snout and Snug, respectively.
On the downside, Ricci and Gross are rather disappointing, and David Greenspan is only sometimes effective as Francis Flute; he is particularly unable to pull off the final scene of Midsummer's play-within-a-play. Rounding out the cast is Erin Hill, who seems out of place as Robin Starveling, although she does evidence a good singing voice in her other role as First Fairy.
Mark Wendland's set, dominated by a tilted mirrored wall, is certainly striking. It also allows the audience to see the stage pictures created by Speciale and choreographer George De La Pena, which often involve actors arranged in patterns that are best appreciated from an aerial vantage point.
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