Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Shakespeare in Hollywood
Also see Dean's review of Newsies and Carla's review of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
This play doesn't exactly require a familiarity with A Midsummer Night's Dream, but if you don't know who Oberon and Puck are, I think you would be lost for a while when, due to a time-travel mishap, they suddenly materialize in Hollywood in 1935. Of all places, they appear on the Warner Brothers set where Max Reinhardt is filming his all-star movie of the play. It's like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, except in reverse.
The conceit of the plot is that Oberon and Puck are mistaken for actors and almost get cast in the movie. They certainly know their lines. They speak the words that Shakespeare wrote for them (although to them it's their natural way of speaking), and everybody thinks they're just staying in character.
Lots of real people populate this play. Max Reinhardt, a Jewish Austrian stage and film director who escaped Nazism and came to America, made only this one film in Hollywood. With Jack Warner as producer, he was given a big-name cast: Dick Powell, Jimmy Cagney, and Joe E. Brown are among the stars who appear in this play. Louella Parsons and Will Hays of Production Code fame (i.e., censorship) show up too. Olivia deHavilland played Hermia, but here she's called Olivia Darnell. Ludwig might have been hesitant to use her real name because she's still alive, now 103 years old. (Linda Darnell was not in the film, being only 12 years old in 1935.)
There's fun in the first act of the "fish out of water" kind. Oberon and Puck have no idea what a telephone is, for example. The second act is mostly farce. The Cupid's flower from Midsummer Night's Dream, the juice of which, when applied to one's eyes, makes you fall in love with the first person you see, produces its effect on almost every character. Rampant confusion and hilarity ensue. But there's also a lovely little romance between Oberon and the actress playing Hermia, and a touch of seriousness when Reinhardt recounts what's going on in his homeland.
A comedy like this needs to be paced well, and director Lewis Hauser and stage manager Audrey Wilkening keep things hopping. The set and props by Linda Wilson accommodate the action without wasting any time between scenes. Lighting by Shannon Flynn and sound by Carson Lewis are effective, and the costumes by Carolyn Hogan and Nina Dorrance are fine, as always.
The twelve-person cast pulls it off very well. Tim Crofton is British, and his plummy voice is perfect for delivering Oberon's speeches. (One of the problems is that when lines like "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows..." are delivered by an actor of Crofton's caliber, it makes the rest of the dialogue seem impoverished.) Amy Cundall is energetic as Puck, but my one gripe with this production is that she should have an English accent too.
Arthur Alpert is excellent as Reinhardt; I only hope that when I'm his age, I can remember my name, much less lines of dialogue. Dan Ware and Elizabeth Olton are tremendously amusing as Jack Warner and his floozy girlfriend who gets cast as Helena, and who in effect gets the film made. Jennifer Benoit is wonderful as Olivia, and her brief scenes at the end with Tim Crofton are unexpectedly touching. Andrew Sutton, Sari Jensen, Daniel Anaya, Jim Pinkston, James Kitzmiller, and Tom Hudgens all do very good work too.
I hope that people are not dissuaded from seeing this show because it has "Shakespeare" in the title. And, although I think that the more you know about A Midsummer Night's Dream, the more you will appreciate it and get the jokes, it's definitely not high-brow. Shakespeare in Hollywood is a well-done comedy, both in the script and in this production, and just the respite we need from this long hot summer.
Shakespeare in Hollywood, through August 4, 2019, at the Adobe Theater, 9813 4th Street NW (a few blocks north of Alameda), Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. An additional Pay What You Will performance is on Thursday, August 1, at 7:30. Tickets $17 to $20. Info at adobetheater.org.