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A Midsummer Night's Dream (2014)

J.A.A. Purves

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(A&F links on The Best Shakespeare on Film, A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), Chimes at Midnight (1965), Hamlet (1990), Othello (1995), Twelfth Night (1996), Titus (1999), The Merchant of Venice (2004), As You Like It (2006), The Tempest (2010), Coriolanus (2011), The Hollow Crown: Richard II, Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2, Henry V (2012), Much Ado About Nothing (2012), Cymbeline (2014), Macbeth (2014).)
Director Julie Taymor has finished the film version of her widely acclaimed, vissually stuffed production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (which ran earlier this year at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn). “Many people wanted to tour, but it’s completely impractical,” Taymor told Vulture this week at a screening of Boyhood at BAMcinemaFest. “There were 17 children and 15 principals. It will probably never see the light of day again as a live production, so I feel very good about the film."
Taymor says this project is similar to her 1992 TV film Oedipus Rex, shot during a Japanese production of Stravinsky's opera-oratorio. Like on Oedipus, Taymor directed the Midsummer film, shot by Frida cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto during the last four performances of the play. “It’s not like Live From the Met,” Taymor says. “This is even more thorough. We shot all performances straight through, putting cameras in different positions at each show, and then in the daytime we went onstage with handheld cameras. I think it’s fairly unusual, because it is a real hybrid of live theater and film. It’s very cinematic. There are no visual effects — they’re all live.”
Taymor, who has played the Toronto Film Festival in the past with Frida in 2002 and Across the Universe in 2007, is hoping to premiere this film there.“I think we’re going to Toronto,” Taymor says. “I don’t know what I’m allowed to say, but I have a good feeling.”
New York Times - 11/3/13 Review of the Play:
... The Samuel H. Scripps Mainstage, which seats 299, is an elegant variation on the basic black-box theater. The first thing you see upon entering is a lone, spotlighted bed center stage. The unwitting might assume they’re in for a fashionably minimalist production.  But as soon as a little fellow in a bowler hat (who turns out to be Puck, played by Kathryn Hunter) crawls into that bed, it starts to grow. And grow and grow, until you expect it to break through the ceiling. The same might be said of the show itself.  In retelling Shakespeare’s story of mortal and immortal lovers lost in a bewitched Athenian wood, Ms. Taymor has sought to conjure the sort of Jungian visions that are bred in the fertile fields of sleep. And with the assistance of what is surely the most adventurous design team of the season — and a very large (and largely able) cast — she transforms bed and bedding into a sylvan, starry wonderland.
An immense sheet rises, falls and twists itself to become a confining roof, a vast sky, a writhing forest floor and an amorous bower fit for a queen of the fairies. Swatches of gauzy white cloth morph into transporting wings. And when the play’s central romantic quadrangle of Athenian youths turns vicious, the myriad sprites who are always standing by provide the squabblers with an endless supply of pillows to fight it out.  The basic palette for Es Devlin’s set is white and black. That color scheme is carried out all the way into the look of the play’s reigning fairies, the ivory-pale Titania (a regally funny Tina Benko with a fairy-lighted bodice) and the ebony-black Oberon (a magisterial David Harewood).  Sven Ortel’s projections and Donald Holder’s lighting meld shadow and substance into patterns of ferns and leaves and — for the dazzling and hilarious pre-intermission scene — orgasmic fireworks of floral color. And Ms. Taymor makes (mostly) revitalizing use of some of her best-known tricks, including Asian-inspired shadow and stick puppetry ... And have I mentioned Constance Hoffman’s costumes, which range from fancy cartoon court attire to fairy outfits that might have been fashioned from the underside of a mushroom? Or Matt Tierney’s disorienting astral sound design? Or the ingeniously mixed music of Elliot Goldenthal, which ranges from anxious jazz riffs to sustained, ethereal lullabies?
Let’s see, what else? Oh, yes, the cast members. There are a lot of them, including a delightful horde of children. The main players include Max Casella, who does Bottom the Weaver (and great ham actor) as a New Yawk working stiff, and Roger Clark as a patriarchal Duke Theseus, and Okwui Okpokwasili, looking like Grace Jones trying to be subdued, as his Amazonian queen, Hippolyta.  The young lovers are portrayed variably by Mandi Masden, Zach Appelman, Jake Horowitz (the son of Jeffrey) and a newcomer named Lilly Englert, who delivers a knockout comic performance as a sexually teasing Hermia. Ms. Benko lends Titania a delicious twist of perversity. (This queen has no regrets about her sexual romp with a donkey.) And the remarkable Ms. Hunter, an Olivier Award winner who appeared here recently in "Kafka's Monkey," creates a genuinely original Puck who is part music-hall comedian, part fairground contortionist.
But you don’t go to a Taymor production for the acting, or — let’s be honest — to exercise your deeper feelings. While I think you could make an argument for a sustained thematic interpretation here, this “Dream” exists more as a glittering necklace of breathtaking moments than as an emotionally affecting whole. But when the moments are this beautiful, they take root in your mind and assume lives of their own. Don’t be surprised when they start showing up in your own dreams.

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