Arena Stage scores with screwball comedy
There's something almost fairy-tale like about Hollywood in most American myth: This is a place where legends are made, happy endings come true and magic happens every day. This is certainly and beautifully true in Arena Stage's latest, Ken Ludwig's hysterical Shakespeare in Hollywood.
The story is basically a clever twist on your fish out of water scenario: Shakespeare's Oberon (the authoritative Casey Biggs) and Puck (whimsical Emily Donahoe) from A Midsummer Night's Dream magically appear on the set of a Hollywood remake of A Midsummer Night's Dream (circa 1934) and after a bit of confusion become cast as themselves.
The story never aims high, but perfectly hits all the low notes. This is especially so in the charming romance that develops between Oberon and Maggie Lacey's good-hearted mortal Olivia Darnell. Their chemistry is remarkably gentle, and they make you care about their characters' future.
What's more, Ludwig deftly weaves a number of intriguing subplots throughout the production. In the most amusing of these, bimbo starlet Lydia Lansing (fantastically sexy Alice Ripley) struggles with her sexist producer boyfriend Jack Warner (Rick Foucheux) to be cast in serious fare (A Midsummer's Night Dream).
Meanwhile, notorious censor Will Hays (the hilariously self-obsessed Everett Quinton) is working against the movie's director Max Reinhardt (rightfully famous Robert Prosky). Prosky is a sight to behold: carrying himself with an almost amused air throughout the play, clearly aware of his status and abilities. Prosky scores a good line early on, emblematic of the play's nature while commenting on Hollywood pressure, "For this I left homeland. True, alternative was Nazis. But it was close race."
The cast's troubles come to a head when Puck's mishaps with a famous flower that causes love at first sight gets loose on the set and the liberal Hollywood cast starts coupling up, all with the wrong partners of course. You know everything will be sorted out in the end, but getting there is the mischievously fun part.
The cast maintains a collective tongue-in-cheek pseudo-ridiculous aura that is perfect for the silly antics throughout. The set is bare but the lighting highlights it: not only directing your attention to the stars but framing them nicely too.
The show is not perfect, though there are only 2 glitches. The dramatic pacing is a little too slow for the quick humor and the twist ending is probably what the audience wants least, though likely what they expect.
The show is playing at Arena Stage through October 14. Tickets are $25 for students.
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