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Interview: Lear deBessonet on Directing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Park

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Interview: Lear deBessonet on Directing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Park

Matthew Murphy

Interview: Lear deBessonet on Directing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Park

Lear deBessonet’s passion for her work is infectious. Just listen to the 37-year-old director speak and you can sense how she’s been able to harness the disparate energies of 200-strong mixed casts of professional and non-professional performers for her vibrant community theater projects. The Louisiana native has also garnered acclaim for her Obie Award-winning production of Brecht’s Good Person of Szechwan, starring a transcendent Taylor Mac in the gender-shifting lead role, and this past spring, her exuberant revival of Suzan-Lori Park’s thought-provoking Venus at the Signature Theatre.

I recently sat down with deBessonet at the Public Theater to chat about her journey as a director and her latest project, the Shakespeare in the Park production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, starring, among others, Phylicia Rashad, Richard Poe, De’Adre Aziza, Annaleigh Ashford, and Danny Burstein.

One Year Revisited: Hair on Broadway

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One Year Revisited: <em>Hair</em> on Broadway
One Year Revisited: <em>Hair</em> on Broadway

Just to dispel the myth that all critics are stick-up-the-ass prigs, I boogied my ass on stage at the finale of Hair with the rest of the patrons. But after making my unofficial Broadway debut on the Al Hirschfeld Theatre stage, it was firmly decided that being in the audience is the best way to experience director Diane Paulus’s celebrated revival. So on to the burning question: How’s it holding up? Well, one certainly misses its original leads (the charismatic, golden-voiced duo of Gavin Creel and Will Swenson), and I don’t remember it being so insanely over-miked as to swallow up the performers’ vocal acrobatics, but Paulus’s unshakable, moving vision of hippiedom as a holding pattern for the young characters’ slow ascent (or descent?) into adulthood is so pristinely omnipresent, watching it unfold remains quite a journey.

Still buoyed by Kevin Adams’s thrilling light trips and the smashing Gerome Ragni/James Rado/Galt MacDermot score, Hair is an awfully hard show to completely muck up. Yes, the hobbling book remains a bit of an issue, and its central characters—including randy fuck-up Berger (Ace Young), cautious, angelic Claude (Kyle Riabko), and politically active, headstrong Sheila (Diana DeGarmo)—sometimes come off as archetypes of an era versus lived-in people. But when a new cast takes over, sometimes you get the benefit of seeing some of its inhabitants anew, and this cast has some choice supporting players. I never thought the moony, pregnant Jeanie was much of a presence before, but Annaleigh Ashford’s sweet, self-aware take on her is surprisingly weighty, and the bit in which the Tribe encounters a hokey older couple can be too arch, but not now with Josh Lamon’s engagingly funny turn as the female half, and he’s equally as impressive as Claude’s dad—a role usually played as an uptight dolt, but now with a layer of attitude that makes it pop. And DeGarmo, while shaky as a dramatic actress, absolutely nails it vocally on her two big numbers (“Easy to Be Hard” and “Good Morning Starshine”).