by DICK KEREKES and LEISLA SANSOM
We love playwright Ken Ludwig’s work. Moon over Buffalo, Lend Me A Tenor, and Leading Ladies are among our all time favorites, so when we learned that one of his newer plays, Shakespeare in Hollywood was opening at the Gainesville Community theatre so we made the short trip to Gator County despite the fact it was the night of the opening game for the football team.
Gainesville Community Theatre was founded in 1927, and quick math makes that 82 years! For years they performed in an old frame building on the very spot where the new state of the art Vam York Theater was build and opened three years ago. The 250 seat theatre is gorgeous, with comfortable seats, good sightlines and excellent technical features. It is located at 4039 NW l6th Blvd next to the Millhopper Publix, so there is plenty of well lit and close parking. It is a strictly volunteer, community effort and one of the most respected community theaters in the Southeast.
In this zany farcical script, Oberon and Puck, two of the characters from Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, suddenly find themselves in Hollywood in 1935 at Warner Brothers. Famous European movie director Max Reinhart is trying to convince the studio head, Jack Warner to produce his movie version of that famous play. In casting the movie, Mickey Rooney and Victor Jory are not available to do the roles of Oberon and Puck so the two time transports, both of whom possess magical powers, get cast in the roles and the fun begins.
Ludwig has used the people cast in the original l935 movie, so as an audience you get to see GCP’s versions of people like Louella Parsons( Carolyn Caracausa), James Cagney (Jonny Gersten), Dick Powell (Jeff Nowlin), Jack Warner (Doug Diekow), Joe E. Brown (Thomas Sanders), Groucho Marx (Estaban Alvarez III), and Tarzan (Dan Scholes). Olivia de Havilland, who was in the film, was changed to Olivia Darnell (Laurel Ring). Ludwig added characters like Daryl (Graham Zinger), and Lydia (Amanda Gunn), the film’s leading lady. A key character addition is Lillian Hayes (Mary F. Thomson), who is head of the infamous production code, and script supervision. Angel Godfrey and Mailee Muraoka are two delightful fairies. Rounding out the ensemble are Dorothy Field, Kim Huebner, Danielle Pagliara and Randall Dees.
In the leading roles of Oberon (Jeremy Lambeth) and Puck (Rhonda Wilson), are excellent and delightful as they mix in famous phrases from other well known Shakespeare plays with the emphasis on humor. Ludwig loves to play with words and phrases and there is a lot of that.
I suppose if you produced this play in New York in a professional theatre, you could find actors that look very much like the actual characters. Here, I do feel that most captured the personalities of the famous people they played, and that is what made it fun. For example, Mr. Alvarez, garnered lots of laughs as the womanizing Groucho.
Pat Thomson, as Director, has made this a fast paced show, using an old fashioned slapstick style to create a very enjoyable couple of hours of wit and fun for a very appreciative audience.
Costumers Patricia Thompson and Dorothy Field have done a wonderful job from beginning to end. For example, the ladies wear hats, furs, feathers, and velvets appropriate to the era and the Hollywood setting. Evening dresses include glamorous filmy prints and clinging sheaths.
The set design, by Patricia Thomson, was effectively minimalistic – with white risers and columns, that along with light design by Thomas Muhn, created all the needed settings while allowing the audience to focus on the acting and the costumes. The acoustics are excellent, and in addition, the actors were miked.
If you are familiar with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you certainly recall the “magic flowers” and their effect on a person who comes under their spell. (They fall madly in love (or is it madly in lust?) with the first person they see when they awake (regardless of gender). Well, all of that is in this show, along with the famous donkey head, with some hilarious combinations. And, of course, happy endings, as true lovers are united.
I would love to see a theatre in the immediate Jacksonville area do this show because I know Ken Ludwig is popular in this area and a good draw as well. It is a lot of fun and you can check it out until September 20th, with performances Wed-Sat at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 PM. Their next production is Singin’ in the Rain, beginning October 30. For more information visit their website at http://gcplayhouse.org.
Shakespeare in Hollywood
by DICK KEREKES and LEISLA SANSOM