35 Years of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare basically wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be performed outside, and the Delacorte Theater in Central Park is the ideal venue for the comedy of magic and mistaken identities. You can almost imagine that Belvedere Castle off in the distance is the kingdom of Theseus and Hippolyta, and even the Central Park raccoon is right at home in the play’s woodland forest setting.
So it’s no surprise that the Public Theater is bringing back the comedy this summer, making it the fourth consecutive decade the company has produced the show. Here’s a quick look at the Midsummer productions over the Public’s 55-year history of presenting free Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater.
Even though Joseph Papp began presenting the Bard’s work at the Delacorte in 1962, it took until the ‘80s to get Midsummer onstage. James Lapine directed the first Central Park iteration, which starred Christine Baranski and Deborah Rush as the lovesick Helena and Hermia. William Hurt played Oberon, and Marcell Rosenblatt played Puck in the tradition of a woman taking on the role. (Kristine Nielsen will don the sprite’s clothes this summer.) The production was filmed and aired later the same year on television.
The play got a bit “primitive,” according to The New York Times, this year in Brazilian director Cacá Rosset’s adaptation of the Shakespeare classic. Rosset created the production with his company, Teatro do Ornitorrinco, and he also starred as buffoonish Bottom in the show, which was performed in Portuguese and featured nudity. Mel Gussow writes in the Times that Rosset is “content to present a frolicsome Brazilian carnival, what could be called a Bottom’s ‘Dream,’ and it is most welcome in its outdoor environment.”
Martha Plimpton starred as Helena in Daniel Sullivan’s production, which also featured Jay O. Sanders as Bottom, Laila Robins as Titania, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Frances Flute. It was Ferguson’s first summer at the Delacorte, and he returned in 2010 for The Merchant of Venice and The Winter’s Tale and again in 2015 for The Tempest. That same summer Lauren Ambrose and Oscar Isaac starred in Romeo and Juliet. (Isaac is currently back at the Public Theater downtown, headlining Hamlet.)
This summer, the deck is stacked for Lear deBessonet’s production of Midsummer. Annaleigh Ashford is making her Delacorte debut as Helena alongside Danny Burstein as Bottom, Phylicia Rashad as Titania, Kristine Nielsen as Puck, and many more. We can’t wait to see how set designer David Rockwell builds the realm of fairyland, and we’re ready to enjoy a moonlit night in the forest!