The Duke of Athens and his royal bride, in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," have an impressive choice of entertainment for their wedding. But we ordinary citizens do even better with the Arena Stage production of the Shakespearean comedy.
We get not only the playlet Theseus, "a tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth," but the airborne and waterlogged adventures of royals, both human and fairy; nobles who know not their own minds, peasantry of a comical turn, and assorted spirits, both whimsical and mishievous, all most enthusiastically and athletically acted, danced, sung and swum, on land, sea and air.
So while it's true that they make us miss out on the other offerings -- "the battle with the Centaurs, to be sung by an Athenian eunuch to the harp," "the riot of the tipsy Bacchanals tearing the Thracian singer in their rage" and "the thrice three Muses mourning for the death of Learning, late deceased in beggary" -- there is no cause to mourn for the Muses.
Entrances are made upside-down from a tangle of silvery trees; sudden and splashy exits are made into the forest pool. Conversations are conducted during somersaults, and scenes conducted with a framework of eavesdroppers represented by hanging heads or feet.
The effect, in this production, directed by David Chambers, is of a world thick with playful spirits. Individually funny or amazing, the tumbles of the participants collectively create an atmosphere teeming with magical impulses.
Theseus and Hippolyta, and Oberon and Titania, are played by the same sensuous couple, Avery Brook and Kathleen Turner, in emphasis on the point that the wild elements are dominant, and civic laws count for little when the law of the forest comes into play. The irresistibly wicked Puck, played -- or nearly danced -- by Charles Janasz, appears as the pompous court master of the revels, as a reminder that anarchy of spirit can lie under the strictest behavior.
The farce of the mistaken lovers, through the comicality of the little but fierce Hermia (played by Christina Moore) and Helena (boisterously played by Mary McDonnell), is the central humor of this production, rather than the Bottom, Flute and Peter Quince scenes, which usually are. When Helena snaps her suitors to heel, like dogs, or Hermia, in her fury, seems to be bicycling in the air, the comedy is broader than is managed by Mark Hammer's strutting as Bottom.
But the great star of this production is Heidi Landesman, creator of the set. An actual pool of water onstage, from which a luminous (and dripping) moon slowly rises, and into which nearly every actor dives or falls at some point, is an undoubted theatrical thrill, no matter how vividly one can picture of the piles of towels offstage that must make it possible.
Tipsy Bacchanals would be tame in comparison.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM -- At the Arena Stage, through January 10.