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Sensual, ingenious 'Midsummer' enchants

Bebe Neuwirth with Steven Skybell as Bottom in

Bebe Neuwirth with Steven Skybell as Bottom in Classic Stage Company/William Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream" Directed by Tony Speciale. (2012) Credit: Joan Marcus

The end of the Broadway season came galumphing to a disappointing close in the last hectic week. (Tony insanity begins with the nominations Tuesday.)

What a particular pleasure, then, to be transported this weekend to a beguiling, sensual, lovably ingenious production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in the unassuming intimacy of the 199-seat Classic Stage Company.

Director Tony Speciale's smart and magical staging has lots of throwaway bits of brainstorms, yet they all feel connected and nothing intrudes on the lucidity of one of Shakespeare's most enchanting works.

CSC has become a center for these teeny jewel box classics, twinkling with -- but seldom overshadowed by -- such starry presences as Maggie Gyllenhaal, John Turturro and Dianne Wiest. This time, the headliners are Bebe Neuwirth and Christina Ricci, both in their local Shakespeare debuts. While neither has the vocal technique for a big house nor for a more beautifully spoken production, both create pithy characters who nestle stylishly into its lusty, elegant earthiness.

The earth, not incidentally, is made of soft, spongy faux-woodchips, which invite gentle, delirious frolics from these often hunky, good-looking mortals and related fairyland creatures.

Designer Mark Wendland's set is backed by a huge tilted fun-house mirror that reflects and distorts both aristocratic and rustic foolishness. Rose petals are used to delicious excess and First Fairy (the dangerously enjoyable Erin Hill) accompanies her acrobatic self on a harp while dressed as the bearded lady.

Speciale, CSC's associate artistic director, double casts all but the four addled lovers, thus finding visceral relationships in the real and the fantasy worlds. Neuwirth connects the disenchantments of both Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and Titania, fairy queen. Anthony Heald, away from New York theater for far too long, enjoys manipulating her as both King of Athens and Oberon, fairy king.

Halley Wegryn Gross, as Helena, is a real find -- delicate and pushy and touching as a character whose devotion to the uncaring Demetrius (Jordan Dean) usually seems unbearably pathetic and stupid. What a good joke that he and his rival Lysander (Nick Gehlfuss) are dressed to look so much alike. There is much heavy necking and beautiful young people in underwear. (Gorgeous costumes by Andrea Lauer). And when Helena as Hermia (Ricci) elopes, she brings designer luggage.

Taylor Mac keeps reinventing himself as an ever-surprising, ominous Puck. And Shakespeare's so-often tiresome "rude mechanicals" -- including Steven Skybell's irrepressible Bottom and David Greenspan's slyly shy Cobweb -- are actually delightful.

WHAT: "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

WHERE: Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St.

INFORMATION: $75-$80; 212-352-3101;

BOTTOM LINE: Tiny theater, big enchantment

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