A Midsummer

Night's Dream

Whether it's a coincidence, experimental director Julie Taymor is making her highly-publicized return to the New York theater scene just as a tell-all book about the behind-the-scenes turmoil that occurred during "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," the mega-musical from which she was fired during previews, is being released.

The book, penned by her former writing partner Glen Berger, paints her as an inspired but inflexible visionary who pursues her high-minded, esoteric concepts at the expense of coherent storytelling.

Before Taymor shot to fame and won a Tony for "The Lion King," she directed classical plays for Off-Broadway's Theater for a New Audience. To inaugurate TFANA's new digs in downtown Brooklyn, Taymor has mounted an elaborate staging of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

It features a cast of no less than 36 actors (including numerous children playing fairies), imaginative costuming and puppetry that evokes "The Lion King" and, apparently undaunted by her "Spider-Man" experience, high-wire flying.

While there are countless moments of visual wonder, as is often the case with Taymor, she lets her wild, imagination overtake and overwhelm the play itself, leading to a production that may please the eye but will disappoint anyone who wanted to see a Shakespeare comedy instead of another overblown Julie Taymor spectacle.

In order to make room for Taymor's excessive and surreal theatrics, the production runs three hours. It does, however, run short on comedy. Although Kathryn Hunter makes for a very nimble Puck and David Harewood is an unusually sexual Oberon, the acting is mostly forgettable.

Based on her history and this most recent offering, it's hard to imagine producers, or even audiences, continuing to have faith in Taymor's ability to direct anything besides an avant-garde circus.