How do you recover from a debacle? If you’re Julie Taymor, you return to your roots — reinterpreting a classic with the full Mulligan stew of styles and theatrical techniques for which you first gained fame: puppetry, shadow figures, mime, projections, dance, music, and even Cirque-style aerial work. (Take that, critics of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark!)
Taymor’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which runs through Jan. 12 at Brooklyn’s brand-new Theatre for a New Audience at Polonsky Shakespeare Center, is a vibrant, visually stunning journey into William Shakespeare’s beloved fairy-land.
The enchantment begins with the opening scene, when the diminutive and flame-haired fairy Puck (Kathryn Hunter, astoundingly limber) mounts a bed at the center of the thrust stage, then rises to the ceiling as the bed sheet is hoisted aloft to become a giant screen that reveals the night sky and the show’s title.
It’s the first of many coups de theatre in Taymor’s Midsummer — though, interestingly, she achieves some of her greatest moments from the simplest means: using bamboo poles to represent the dark forest to which the two sets of thwarted young lovers flee, for instance, or tapping 20 hyper-energetic kids (ages 7 to 16) as fairies and spirits.
Perhaps inevitably, Taymor’s stunning visuals sometimes have more shading than the performances, which tend to boil down to types: Demetrius (Zach Appelman) is a well-heeled rich kid; his intended fiancée, Hermia (Lilly Englert) is a petulant blonde; Hermia’s preferred beau, Lysander (Jake Horowitz), is a long-haired hipster, etc. The amateur theater troupe known as the ”rude mechanicals” get even more extreme differentiation in their characters, including a broadly Latino Flute (Zachary Infante) and a decidedly limp-wristed Starveling (William Youmans).
But Max Casella is hilariously down-to-earth as the buffoonish Bottom, and Brendan Averett as the giant simpleton Snug gets one of Taymor’s best in-jokes: a homespun lion headdress, complete with paintbrushes for the mane, that recalls the more elaborate costumes for her Broadway triumph The Lion King.
In the end, there is no mistaking that the star of this production is Taymor herself. And there’s a magnificent muchness of her approach to the Bard’s most durable of comedies, as she tosses in everything from pillow fights to a grass-upholstered reclining chair to achieve her vision. But remarkably, this Midsummer never tips over into a too-muchness — there is a veneer of restraint at work here, as if she remains heedful of the admonition of the Demetrius-pining Helena: ”Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” A-