Ken Ludwig’s Shakespeare in Hollywood

Directed by Lewis Hauser

Through August 4

Tickets: AdobeTheater.org, 505.898.9222

Charming and funny, The Adobe Theater’s production of Ken Ludwig’s Shakespeare in Hollywood tells a fanciful tale of the old movie biz. The old movie is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, released in 1935 by Warner Bros. and directed by Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle. It was made with the unlikely cast of Olivia de Havilland (Hermia), child-star Mickey Rooney (Puck), James Cagney (Bottom), Joe E. Brown (Flute) and Dick Powell (Lysander), among other Hollywood stars. 

In Ken Ludwig’s play about the making of the film, Oberon (Tim Crofton) and Puck (Amy Cundall) are floating around in time and space and find themselves at Warner Bros. while the movie is being made. Making themselves invisible, they overhear a conversation between Jack Warner (Dan Ware) and Reinhardt (Arthur Alpert) and realize that the film is about themselves. Of course, they are eventually cast by Reinhardt as Oberon and Puck. 

Oberon becomes enamored with Olivia Darnell (Jennifer Benoit) and Puck becomes enamored with Hollywood herself. Being a movie star is the best life he can imagine. It’s a great sight gag when Puck and Oberon simultaneously don their movie-star sunglasses.

The story expands to include Jack Warner’s love affair with trashy B-movie star Lydia Lansing (Elizabeth Olton) and his studio’s constant battle with gadfly Will Hays (Jim Pinkston) of the Hays Code. If you love Shakespeare, you’ll get the joke about trying to impose a Puritanical world view on his plots and characters. Playwright Ludwig gives Hays his comeuppance in a memorable way.

Oberon tries the same trick on Olivia as he did on Titania in the original play—he has Puck gather love-in-idleness, a flower that, when struck by Cupid’s bow, produces a love potion that makes its victim fall madly in love with the next person he or she sees. Needless to say, Puck’s careless wielding of the potion lacks the appropriate follow through. Hilarious pairings ensue; Oberon is not amused.

We have two narrators in gossip monger Louella Parsons (Sari Jensen) and in director Reinhardt—you’ll have to determine their reliability for yourself. Warner and Parsons chime in occasionally to move the story along. As for me, I want Parsons’s wardrobe. Costume Designer Carolyn Hogan knows how to do glitter and glam.

Some cast standouts are James Kitzmiller as Joe E. Brown/Thisbe, who might be getting the worst of Puck’s snafu, and Elizabeth Olton as daffy, darling Lydia Lansing. Rounding out the cast are Daniel Anaya as Dick Powell, Tom Hudgens as Jimmy Cagney, and Andrew Sutton as Daryl, Jack Warner’s put-upon assistant. Each of the actors groks his or her part and knows what farce is. 

But Tim Crofton steals the show with his rendering of Oberon as the ultimate romantic hero. He really knows how to look into a girl’s eyes. Fellas, take notes.

I may have enjoyed writing this play more than any other I’ve ever written,” Ludwig said of Shakespeare in Hollywood. Director Lewis Hauser enjoys his job, too, and has steered more than one Ludwig show to laughter and tears. The audience always has a good time.

—Stephanie Hainsfurther publishes ABQArts.com.

Photo above (l. To r.) Amy Cundall as Puck, Arthur Alpert as Max Reinhardt, and Tom Crofton as Oberon. Photo by Carolyn Hogan.