Irving — What happens when the Warner Brothers movie machine meets the Bard? In the hands of playwright Ken Ludwig, a double feature’s worth of mistaken identity, cross dressing and madcap fun. Shakespeare in Hollywood, presented by Mainstage Irving-Las Colinas at the Irving Arts Center, opens with a recreation of the 1934 premiere of the movie version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Notorious gossip columnist Louella Parsons is presiding and the night is packed with stars. Curtain up…
Best known for the 1989 hit Lend Me a Tenor, which won multiple Tony awards, Ludwig wrote Shakespeare in Hollywood on commission for the Royal Shakespeare Company and it received the Helen Hayes Award for Best New Play of the Year. The premise is that the “real” Oberon and Puck have fallen through some type of wormhole and ended up on the Midsummer movie set. The two are recruited to play themselves in the film, and their magical tricks cast the unwitting mortals around them into a mash up of laughter and loopy love triangles.
MILC has turned out a strong cast here, though the female actors are the standouts. Lydia Lansing (Lindsay Hayward) is the starlet who has captured Jack Warner’s affections, with a mixture of bawdiness, heart and determination. Hayward’s portrayal is reminiscent of the great screwball comedy actresses of the 30’s. Though she’s clearly using Warner to get what she wants, she isn’t venal, she truly yearns to be a classic actress. The scene in which she tries to prove that Helena’s Shakespearean utterances are just as good backwards as forwards is hilarious. Once she falls for another she is as pitifully love-struck as her suitor.
As Olivia, the fresh young ingénue cast as Hermia, Lori Jones plays a sweet-tempered film actress without ever being cloying. She also has a strong command of speaking in verse; eloquently conveying giddy young love through her Shakespearean role as well.
The male sides of the love triangles are mostly good. Movie star Dick Powell (Rick Powers) is stuck on the young Olivia, and when he plays Lysander to her Hermia they create some lovely moments amidst the farce that swirls around them.
Oberon (Shane Hamlin) is constantly quoting Shakespeare plays and it’s great fun to figure out what plays the lines are from. Both he and Puck (played by a woman, Jill Ethridge) have chosen, however, to use a fairly mannered style of acting, which may be a not entirely successful nod to the acting style of the filmed Shakespeare of the day.
Will Hays (Craig Boleman) shows up as the villain and is appropriately pretentious as he tries in vain to enforce the movie morality code. Until that is, he too is smitten with a love that would horrify his code’s supporters. And Max Reinhardt (Jason Kane) lends some gravity to the proceedings as a director who is trying to get by in America while Hitler is taking over his homeland of Germany.
As directed by Harry Friedman, Shakespeare in Hollywood gets off to a bit of a slow start, due in part to the amount of exposition needed to set up the complex plot. But once it picks up steam, this farce careens along nicely to its conclusion. The sets by Ellen Mizener, ‘30s period clothing and Shakespearean costumes by Michael Robinson/Dallas Costume Shoppe and great music choices by Jeff Mizener add to the overall feel and fun of the production.
Shakespeare in Hollywood? It’s a culture clash, a cosmic joke and all in all, a rollicking good time.