'A Midsummer Night's Dream' review: Julie Taymor brings magic to Brooklyn

Julie Taymor directs "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Julie Taymor directs "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, Oct. 19, 2013 - Jan. 12, 2014. Photo Credit: Marco Grob, 2013

advertisement | advertise on newsday

REVIEW

Julie Taymor is the real thing. Perhaps that needs to be said again. After years of "Spider-Man" ugliness that smudged the legacy of this visionary director-designer, Taymor answers back with a deliriously beautiful, deeply magical staging of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" that's as human as it is wildly inventive. And yes, oh my, people fly.

This "Dream" is also a dream of an inaugural production for the impressive and airy $54 million Brooklyn home for Jeffrey Horowitz's Theatre for a New Audience, the altogether deserving institution that has wandered homeless through Manhattan theaters for more than three decades.

The temptation is to spend the rest of this space describing moments that, in their own way, are as startling and sure-handed as Taymor's transformations in "The Lion King." But let's just start with the first scene, which begins with a white bed shining in the middle of a shiny black floor in a sky-high black space with audiences on three sides.

It is the bed of Puck, played by a tiny, fearless contortionist of an actor named Kathryn Hunter. When Puck climbs into bed, it begins to rise as if lifted high by gnarled tree branches. A carpenter -- one of Shakespeare's comic Rude Mechanicals -- chops down the tree. The bed flies up in a whoosh of the silk sheet, propelled by rope pulleys manipulated by men on four ramps around the stage. Oh, then the sheet turns into a blue sky with clouds.

And we're off into 2 3/4 hours of nonstop enchantments that, for all their guts and passion and humor, never get in the way of the storytelling. Shakespeare's overlapping mortal and fairy romantics spend the dark, disturbing and lovable night in the forest that grows from that first flying bedsheet.

David Harewood makes a formidable Oberon, dressed like a black Mr. Clean with porcupine quills. Tina Benko is his pale-white Titania, a fairy queen who flies down from above to find herself bewitched into hot love for Bottom, the Donkey, played with street-wise sweetness by Max Casella. I can't remember a time when the Rude Mechanicals were funny, not annoying. And the young actors playing the Athenian lovers are lyrical and adorable.

Costumes are modern yet fantastically otherworldly. Dozens of small children play wild things in the forest, and Taymor's creatures include a few irresistible "Lion King" sight gags. Finally, when Oberon blesses "this place," the place feels blessed.


WHAT "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

WHERE Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Pl., Brooklyn

INFO $75; 866-811-4111; tfana.org

BOTTOM LINE Julie Taymor shrugs off the spiders with magical "Dream."

You also may be interested in: