Another Midsummer Night

American Music Theater Festival, Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, through March 9, 893-1145.

Four young New Yorkers -- a newly engaged couple (Joseph Cassidy and Jennifer Rosin) and their friends (Robert Mammana and Jennifer Lee Andrews) -- follow performance artist Nicki Patos (Sybyl Walker) and her "techno-Mechanicals" (Bryan T. Donovan and Seanna Kofoed) into Central Park on a summer night to see their site-specific environmental production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Before the performance, Nicki, meditating over her New Age crystals, accidentally awakens Oberon (Michael X. Martin), Titania (Karen Murphy), Puck (John Lathan) and their attendant fairies (Marcy Harriell and Jolie Jenkins) from their four-century slumbers.

Before the night is over, Titania pulls the same love-potion trick on Oberon that he did to her in the Shakespeare play; Nicki is transformed by Puck into a video-screen techno-head; the doting Oberon is transformed into a beer-guzzling TV-transfixed couch potato; the young lovers' eyes are anointed with the love potion; and the mismatched couples find their true spouses.

Jeffrey Lunden and Arthur Perlman's Another Midsummer Night is neither an adaptation of Shakespeare's play, nor a parody, nor an independent version, nor a deconstruction. It's. . . well, the title says it: it's anotherMidsummer Night's Dream.

As in their Alice in Wonderland-inspired Once on a Summer's Day (which received a tepid and overproduced revival by a local company here two summers ago), Lunden and Perlman seem as though they can't decide whether they want to do a musical version of the work or to do something else altogether. When Another Midsummer Night stays close to the source, it's, well, cute, with perky pseudo-Elizabethan electronic-harpsichord ditties and fairies talking in rhymed tetrameter. And the production (Michael Maggio reprising for AMTF his direction of the 1995 premiere at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago) stays close -- perhaps too close -- to its Elizabethan source, or at least to a pop-culture clich of A Midsummer Night's Dream, with gauzy sets (by Linda Buchanan), lots of blue light (by Robert Christen), Oberon in pumpkin pants, Titania dressed like Queen Elizabeth, and fairies on wires (flying by Foy, natch).

The great missed opportunity is the four young lovers. We know when we first see them that they're mismatched (their costumes and their professions are an easy tip-off); we can guess where the plot will ultimately take them; and, if we don't, the off-Broadway-ish ensemble numbers certainly point the way. Early in the first act, though, something real starts to happen: they look at themselves and at one another and begin to sort themselves out in a way that is genuinely human, genuinely dramatized, even touching. Then A Midsummer Night's Dream rears its cutesy head, Puck anoints their eyes, and we're back to the nonsense. Shakespeare's young lovers need the love potion to sort themselves out; these lovers began to do so, and could have gone the distance, perfectly well without it, thank you very much.

The music is fine if generic. (How come the big numbers in both Once on a Summer's Day and Another Midsummer Night all sound like the first-act finale to Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George?) There is, though, one truly inspired musical number: when, to the strains of a brilliant parody of Philip Glass' boopie-boopie arpeggios and modulations, Oberon boogies beneath the split-screen video images (by Christopher Kondek) of Nicki above his head. It's almost worth the price of admission.

-- Cary M. Mazer