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‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ review: Terrific cast delights in Shakespeare classic

The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production

The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" stars Phylicia Rashad as fairy queen Titania (pictured center with Benjamin Ye as Changeling Boy). Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ plays at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park through Aug. 13. For information on obtaining free tickets, visit publictheater.org.

There’s no need to worry about protesters at this Shakespeare production.

The Public Theater, which provoked national controversy last month with a Shakespeare in the Park production of “Julius Caesar” in which the title character resembled President Donald Trump, is now presenting a bright and jubilant staging of the perennial romantic comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the park.

One of Shakespeare’s most crowd-pleasing and well-constructed works, “Midsummer” observes the topsy-turvy chaos in and around the woods of Athens as two pairs of emotional young lovers and a group of well-meaning laborers/amateur actors come into contact with supernatural fairies who possess mind-bending and body-shaping powers.

The production is directed by Lear deBessonet, who founded the theater’s recently conceived Public Works series, in which massive musical pageants based on classic titles are performed at the park by professional actors alongside dozens of members of citywide community organizations.

“Midsummer” can be staged and interpreted in innumerable ways, with varying degrees of broad comedy, dark undertones, physical choreography and experimental tactics. For instance, Peter Brook’s game-changing 1970 production was set around an empty white box and suggested magic by incorporating circus acts.

Except for a few distinct touches — older actors playing the fairies, a tree house containing a live band and ad-libs directed to the audience, to name a few — deBessonet’s production is relatively straightforward, with a traditional, simple set design of large trees full of twinkling lights.

This shifts the focus to the terrific performances of Phylicia Rashad (regal and loving as the fairy queen Titania), Danny Burstein (eager and energetic as the hammy actor Bottom), Kristine Nielsen (merry and mischievous as the nimble spirit Puck), Shalita Grant (unusually bold as Hermia) and Annaleigh Ashford (ingeniously quirky as the spurned but tenacious Helena).

Plenty of edgy fare will be produced during future Shakespeare in the Park seasons, and perhaps a protester or two will even return. But after last month’s “Caesar” drama, it’s nice to just sit back and enjoy “Midsummer” on a summer night.

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