‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at new Shakespeare theater is a diamond, but a rough one

‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at new Shakespeare theater is a diamond, but a rough one
Photo by Gerry Goodstein

Lord, what jewels these mortals be.

The first production at Brooklyn’s spectacular, just-opened Shakespeare playhouse, the Theatre for a New Audience on Ashland Place near Fulton Street, is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and it dazzles in surprising, sometimes un-glamorous ways. The performance opened on Oct. 19 and marks a comeback for director Julie Taymor, whose last production was the disastrous “Spiderman: Turn Out the Dark.” This staging has its high points — and not the kind that injure cast members the way “Spiderman” famously did.

The “Midsummer” sets are marvels of low-tech design, with giant bedsheets standing in for tents and fairy homes and long poles representing the vast, enchanted forest where most of the play takes place, but Taymor’s stagecraft is not earth-shaking.

The glowing fairies and underwear pillow fights are well-executed, but they fade into the background next to the music, which is hands down the most engaging part of the production. In one breathtaking scene, a chorus of children sing the fairy queen Titania to sleep on a hammock in the sky.

For that you can thank composer Elliot Goldenthal, who was tasked with reviving the master playwright’s oft-ignored song-and-dance stage directions.

“In a lot of productions, they just have a couple of measures of Elizabethean-sounding music and then they’re done,” Goldenthal said. “I actually took Shakespeare at his word.”

But purists eager to hear the old music might be alarmed to learn that Goldenthal also did the unthinkable by tinkering with the text. In the lullaby scene, for instance, Goldenthal realized that his melody and Shakespeare’s words were too long for what Taymor had in mind, so he edited the Bard’s lines in some places where they repeated.

“[We] realized that, after he says it once, everyone gets the point,” Goldenthal said.

If you can stomach the omission — and given that most modern productions leave out the songs entirely, odds are you can — the extended musical numbers liven up the play and provide welcome interludes from the timeless-but-dense talking.

“I think the reason Shakespeare put song and dance in the play is that he wanted to give the ear a rest from all that dialogue,” he said.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Theater for a New Audience [262 Ashland Pl. between Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene, (212) 229–2819, www.tfana.org]. Through Jan. 12, 2014. Tickets start at $75.

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at jlutz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.