Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Shakespeare in Hollywood"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


by Ken Ludwig
directed by Spiro Veloudos

Oberon … Christopher Chew
Puck … Ilyse Robbins
Jack Warner … Robert Saoud
Max Reinhardt … Ken Baltin
Will Hays … Peter A. Carey
Daryl … Gabriel Field
Olivia Darnell … Elizabeth Hayes
Lydia Lansing … Caroline deLima
Louella Parsons … Margaret Ann Brady
Dick Powell … Ben Lambert
Jimmy Cagney … Bob De Vivo
Joe E. Brown … David Krinitt

Stagehands; Hollywood Characters; Dancers:

Caroline Luce; Don Ringuette; Stephanie Romano

Three seasons ago, the Lyric Stage’s production of Ken Ludwig’s LEND ME A TENOR had me barking with the best of them; the Lyric closes its current season with Mr. Ludwig’s SHAKESPEARE IN HOLLYWOOD which muzzled me though I was the exception rather than the rule on the night I attended. LEND ME A TENOR was great fun --- Mr. Ludwig had done enough homework to evoke the world of Hollywood screwball comedies --- but MOON OVER BUFFALO was a pale facsimile and SHAKESPEARE IN HOLLYWOOD is one too many trips to a well now run dry.

The plot: Oberon, King of the Fairies, and the trickster Puck find themselves transported to 1930s Hollywood where they are hired by genius-director Max Reinhardt as replacements for the original “Oberon” and “Puck” in Warner Brothers’ all-star production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. While Mr. Reinhardt battles the dictatorship of Jack Warner and the censorship of Will Hays, Oberon falls in star-crossed love with the actress Olivia Darnell (read: de Havilland?); their growing relationship is too often pushed aside in the name of Farce even if it means stunting a charming Romance. Mr. Ludwig recycles the tricks he learned for LEND ME A TENOR and stretches SHAKESPEARE’s credibility beyond the breaking point: his Oberon and Puck haven’t a clue as to who Shakespeare was though they are always paraphrasing him, and no publication at the time would have dared to call a leading lady a slut --- her studio would have had its hide --- nor would a thick Brooklyn dialect have gotten her far in talking pictures, regardless with whom she was sleeping. Max Reinhardt’s blunt reply to Louella Parsons’ question about what has brought him to America hints at black satire to come but Mr. Ludwig settles for two easy outlets: Oberon and Puck “going Hollywood” and Oberon, jealous of a rival for Olivia’s affections, commanding Puck to once again fetch that flower whose magic will cause its victim to fall in love with the first person it sees upon awakening; the plan backfires, of course --- often. The evening’s one bit of cleverness demonstrates how a Shakespearean speech can make the same impression when recited backwards as it does, forward. I smiled at that one.

Under Spiro Veloudos’ heavy-handed direction, the Lyric actors go for broad, florid comedy but underline the play’s skit-like nature, instead. Christopher Chew is neither magical nor authoritative as Oberon but turns sweet and touching in time for his final scenes; Ken Baltin gargles his Reinhardt with distinction; Peter A. Carey, ever the vaudevillian, stops the show when his Will Hays becomes smitten with himself; though he plays actor Joe E. Brown along the lines of Pooh’s Eeyore, David Krinitt has his drag-moments (so that’s how Rhoda Penmark looked, once she had grown!). Elizabeth Hayes’ sunny, spunky energy becomes overpowering when she is cast as ingénues and her chattering Olivia holds no surprises apart from her audition, coached by the unseen Oberon, where Ms. Hayes relaxes and recites in the warm, throaty tones of a bass string gently being plucked. So far no one has nabbed Ms. Hayes for Annie Oakley or Nellie Forbush; I would coax her back to the sultriness of MOLLY’S DREAM where she was a curvy chum you could bring home to Mother.

"Shakespeare in Hollywood" (6 May - 4 June)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 437-7172

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide