Swingin’ the Dream: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in Central Park

By Samuel L. Leiter

There’s no better place to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream than on a lovely summer night in Central Park. And, while Lear DeBessonet’s colorful version for the Public Theater may not fully capture the play’s romantic lyricism or its magical allure, it largely makes up for those drawbacks in its infectious exuberance and joie de vivre.

This Dream is set in an enchanted, Louisiana-like bayou (DeBessonet is from Baton Rouge), with David Rockwell’s decor showing thick trees—placed on separate revolves—drooping with reams of Spanish Moss; one includes a halved trunk that serves for sliding pond entrances. Tyler Micoleau’s lighting palette brilliantly enhances the graceful vista.

Also memorable is the swinging, six-player, New Orleans-style jazz band set aloft in its own pavilion, playing a score by Justin Levine that deserves to be heard after the show closes. DeBessonet’s conception, in fact, is reminiscent of 1939’s Swingin’ the Dream, a jazz-based, African-American interpretation that faded after only 13 performances despite a cast featuring Louis Armstrong as Bottom and Butterfly McQueen as Puck, with music by Armstrong and Benny Goodman. 

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