×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Shakespeare in Hollywood

Max Reinhardt's 1935 filming of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," is grist for Ken Ludwig's latest farce, a defiantly corny yet amusing escapade that is given a classy sendoff by Arena Stage. Chaos erupts on the soundstage when the "real" Oberon and Puck appear by chance, eager to make mischief and spark a romance.

With:
Louella Parsons - Ellen Karas Max Reinhardt - Robert Prosky Dick Powell - David Fendig Jack Warner - Rick Foucheux Daryl - Michael Skinner Lydia Lansing - Alice Ripley Oberon - Casey Biggs Puck - Emily Donahoe Olivia Darnell - Maggy Lacey Will Hayes - Everett Quinton Joe E. Brown - Hugh Nees Jimmy Cagney - Adam Richman

One of Hollywood’s storied chapters, Max Reinhardt’s 1935 filming of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” is grist for Ken Ludwig’s latest farce, a defiantly corny yet amusing escapade that is given a classy sendoff by Arena Stage. Chaos erupts on the soundstage when the “real” Oberon and Puck appear by chance, eager to make mischief and spark a romance.

Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor,” “Moon Over Buffalo”) loves a showbiz story, and he finds Austrian producer Reinhardt’s brief experience in Hollywood a worthy topic. Not only did the making of the film set up one of Hollywood’s celebrated art-vs.-commercialization clashes, but it gathered on one project some of the town’s more memorable characters — Jack Warner, Jimmy Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, Dick Powell, Mickey Rooney and Joe E. Brown. For Ludwig, this mix was just a few ingredients shy of another madcap comedy: one ditzy love interest, a cold-hearted villain (film censor Will Hays) and two of Shakespeare’s most enduring characters.

Popular on Variety

The result is a distinctly low-brow farce filled with goofy puns, banal jokes and manufactured mayhem. Every supporting character is a one-note stereotype, from the cigar-chomping Warner to the sneering and belligerent Hays. (Perhaps that’s why the Royal Shakespeare Co., for which the play was originally written, lost interest after reviewing the script.) The play gets its spark chiefly by parodying the showbiz titans, toying with Shakespearean prose and adding a magician’s surprises.

Arena has assembled a terrific cast that, for the most part, delivers. Former company member Robert Prosky as Reinhardt is the voice of reason and the play’s frustrated narrator, while Broadway’s Alice Ripley is comfortably over-the-top as the bimbo starlet and peroxided playmate of studio boss Warner (Rick Foucheux). Casey Biggs is just right as the bewildered but charming Oberon.

Other bright perfs are turned in by Maggy Lacey as an adorable de Havilland (renamed Olivia Darnell because Ludwig didn’t want to offend the screen star), Emily Donahoe as the spirited Puck, Ellen Karas as irritating gossip columnist Louella Parsons and Everett Quinton as the detestable Hays. Hugh Ness is the spitting image of Joe E. Brown, the play’s chief foil, and Michael Skinner is the quintessentially blubbery yes man. The whole thing is packaged frenetically by director Kyle Donnelly, who keeps the action perpetually flowing.

For the record, Ludwig has taken some historical liberties with the play’s central theme. Ripley’s character browbeats Warner into producing the film as her star vehicle. In reality, Warner OK’d the project after seeing Reinhardt’s stage production at the Hollywood Bowl.

Ludwig playfully lampoons Hollywood’s famous phoniness by interpreting it through the eyes of Shakespeare’s characters. But in general, the play disappoints, especially when the second act disintegrates into an array of contrived couplings as Puck’s magic flower falls into the wrong hands. It’s essentially a one-joke act that cries out for more clever material.

Shakespeare in Hollywood

Arena Stage/Fichlander Theater, Washington, D.C.; 816 seats; $53 top

Production: An Arena Stage presentation of a play in two acts by Ken Ludwig. Directed by Kyle Donnelly.

Creative: Scenery, Thomas Lynch; costumes, Jess Goldstein; lighting, Nancy Schertler; sound, Susan R. White; choreography, Karma Camp. Opened, reviewed Sept. 12, 2003. Running time: 2 HOURS

Cast: Louella Parsons - Ellen Karas Max Reinhardt - Robert Prosky Dick Powell - David Fendig Jack Warner - Rick Foucheux Daryl - Michael Skinner Lydia Lansing - Alice Ripley Oberon - Casey Biggs Puck - Emily Donahoe Olivia Darnell - Maggy Lacey Will Hayes - Everett Quinton Joe E. Brown - Hugh Nees Jimmy Cagney - Adam RichmanWith: Bethany Caputo, Scott Graham, Eric Jorgensen, Robert McClure.

More Legit

  • Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant,

    Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant, Dies at 73

    Gregg Smith, a dancer, casting director and assistant choreographer who had a long association with director Kenny Ortega, has died. He was 73. Smith died on Jan. 1. The industry veteran worked as a performer in the national touring company of the musical “Hair” and in a Los Angeles production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He [...]

  • Frozen review musical

    Warmth and Humor Pervade Pantages Production of 'Frozen' the Musical

    In 2013, Disney’s “Frozen” hit screens like a 100 mile-per-hour snowball, sparking a pop cultural phenomenon in which little girls and boys pranced about dressed in Anna and Elsa and Olaf costumes while belting aloud “Let It Go,” Elsa’s feminist anthemic response to ice powers rendering her a societal outcast. The animated movie won two [...]

  • My Name Is Lucy Barton review

    'My Name is Lucy Barton': Theater Review

    Laura Linney is in love. Just watch the radiant expression on her face as she wraps her arms around the character of Lucy Barton, a role she played in two separate engagements at the Bridge Theater in London, and is now reprising on Broadway in “My Name is Lucy Barton.” The feeling is obviously mutual, [...]

  • 'Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal' to

    'Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal' to Air Weekly, Syndicate Nationally (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal” will become nationally syndicated, marking a first for a program about the Great White Way. Beginning in fall 2020, the monthly show will increase frequency to air weekly. The show is hosted and executive-produced by 12-time Emmy Award winner Tamsen Fadal, a news anchor at WPIX, the channel that initially [...]

  • Laura Linney My Name Is Lucy

    Listen: What Laura Linney Learns From Bad Shows

    For Laura Linney, every stage experience is a learning experience. “Even the bad ones!” she cheerfully declared on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “Even the ones that are really bad, and I’ve been really bad in some things,” continued the Emmy winner, currently back on Broadway [...]

  • 'Betrayal' Star Zawe Ashton Signs With

    'Betrayal' Star Zawe Ashton Signs With CAA (EXCLUSIVE)

    Zawe Ashton has signed with CAA, Variety has learned. Most recently seen on Broadway in the hit revival of Harold Pinter’s “Betryal,” Ashton is the definition of a multi-hyphenate. In addition to being an in-demand actress, Ashton is a director, playwright and author. While earning critical raves for “Betrayal,” Ashton made her debut as a [...]

  • Michael Feinstein Kristin Chenoweth Sutton Foster

    Jerry Herman Memorial Set for Feb. 3 at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

    A memorial service for Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman will be held at 3 p.m. on Feb. 3 at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Michael Feinstein is producing the tribute, which will feature performances from a number of notable legit stars, including Kristin Chenoweth, Harvey Fierstein, Sutton Foster, Kelli O’Hara, Bernadette Peters and Betty Buckley. Angela [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content