is by far Shakespeare’s most genre friendly play, chocked full of fairies and
magical spells. It is the comedy that inspired Czech animator Jiri Trnka’s
adaptation 1959. Subsequently, both Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett have riffed
on in their signature fantasy worlds, so it should be the Shakespeare play
contemporary movie goers can most easily relate to. Now they have no excuse,
because Julie Taymor will give them the spectacle they crave in her filmed
version of her own dynamic staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (trailer here), which screens nationwide this coming
Monday for one night only.
inaugurate the opening of their first permanent home, Theatre for a New
Audience turned to Taymor, who put her distinctive stylistic stamp on Midsummer, in collaboration with
composer Elliot Goldenthal. Not only was the production a hit, it also
translates well to the big screen (and the bigger the better). Yet, the best
surprise is how deftly Taymor and her cast turn the play’s comedic business,
getting big laughs everywhere Shakespeare intended them. Many previous
productions have been fatally caught up in the dream motifs, resulting in a
snoozy atmosphere. In contrast, Taymor’s Midsummer
is unusually energetic and pacey.
course, it is still Midsummer. That
means Hermia and Lysander are still forbidden to marry, they once again abscond
to the forest outside Athens, inadvertently blundering into the Fairy Realm.
The prospective suitors they rejected, Demetrius and Helena follow after them.
Hoping to even out the situation, Oberon the King of the Fairies, orders Robin “Puck”
Goodfellow to bewitch Demetrius with Helena, but his trickster servant casts
the spell upon the wrong mortal. Meanwhile, a group of roughhewn tradesmen are
rehearsing the play they hope to put on as part of the ruling Duke’s impending wedding.
This time Puck gets it right, magically morphing the blowhard Nick Bottom into a
Donkey-headed beast and enchanting Oberon’s disobedient Queen Titania with the
this familiar, archetype-rich narrative, Taymor incorporates some incredible
wire-work (at least she got something out of the Spiderman experience), the rich yet suggestive costuming (often
reminiscent of her Lion King), her
trademark billowing fabrics, sparingly effective use of video projections, and
pillow fights. Believe it or not, almost all of it looks great on the screen.
the incontestable star of Taymor’s Taymor’s Shakespeare’s Midsummer is Kathryn Hunter, playing Puck in the Mary Martin
tradition, but with a mischievous glean in her eye worthy of Peter Dinklage’s
Tyrion Lannister. Taymor whips her around the stage like Spidey, yet she still
totally nails the “if we shadows have offended” epilogue.
are no weak links per se, but David Harewood’s physical presence as Oberon is
pretty darned awesome. Likewise, Roger Clark plays the Duke with gravitas and
good humor befitting a nobleman. To an extent, as Demetrius and Helena, Zach
Appelman and Mandi Masden somewhat outshine a comparably blander Hermia and
Lysander, but it hardly matters.
Filmed theater often looks a little flat, but
Taymor makes it an immersive and kinetic cinematic experience. This will be a
tough Midsummer to top, so it is
great to have it so well preserved. Frankly, it easily ranks within the top
tier of Shakespearean comedies for the big screen, up there with Trevor Nunn’s Twelfth Night and Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing. Very highly
recommended, Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s
Dream screens this Monday (6/22) as a special Fathom Events presentation at
theaters nationwide, including the AMC Empire in New York.
Labels: Fathom Events, Julie Taymor, Shakespeare on film