Aug. 22--CHATHAM -- The title of the final show in the Monomoy Theatre season sounds like one of those pithy, high-concept pitches for what could be the next blockbuster movie: "Shakespeare in Hollywood."
It tells you pretty much everything you need to know, right? The clash of culture and the veneer of glamour, of Elizabethan artiness and in-it-for-the-money decision-making, of poetry and potential crassness. Then add playwright Ken Ludwig's ("Lend Me a Tenor") crossing of real magic from Shakespeare fairies come to life with artificial movie magic and you've got a plot quirky enough to make you wonder just why he thought this mash-up of so many ideas would actually work.
But then, in the hands of director Max Williams and his game, pull-out-all-the-stops cast, the Monomoy production becomes a hilarious, heartfelt valentine to both Shakespeare and old Hollywood. With its frantic, must-see climax of romantic chaos, the group of college students and guest artists end their summer looking like they're having as much fun as the audience.
Ludwig bases his farce on a real moment in Hollywood history: 1934, when director Max Reinhardt brings his hugely successful production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" to the Warner Bros. studio to turn it into a movie with some of its most bankable stars (Dick Powell, Jimmy Cagney, etc.).
English guest artist/author Bernard Cornwell puts on a creditable Austrian accent for a wonderful turn as the sly, determined Reinhardt. Against Monomoy designer Andrew Sierszyn's spot-on set of Los Angeles mountain and Hollywoodland sign, Cornwell narrates one version of how he got this movie made as a vehicle for the studio producer's chorus-girl mistress (a comical Lisa Bol in full dumb-blonde mode, with squeaky Bronx accent).
Enter "Midsummer"'s Fairy King Oberon and spritely servant Puck. They're the real deal, off course from a journey back to their magical woods, plunked down -- fish out of water -- on the movie set of their home turf. Abraham Adams' deep-voiced, majesterial Oberon, speaking with Ludwig's odd mix of Shakespearean verse and slang in a fabulous cape by costumer Heather Jessup, falls for wide-eyed, winsome ingenue actress Olivia (Alexis Semevolos). And then he gets angered (cue the thunder clap) by Jason Long's pushy, self-important Will Hays, who sets the morality production code for what's allowed in a movie.
So Oberon sets Puck, delightfully and mischievously played by Alycia M. Kunkle, on the same mission as in "Midsummer": Get a magic flower that sets off a love spell (and here creates a running gag that is funny every single time). In the Shakespeare comedy, that plan gets mixed up with wrong lovers, wrong fairies, donkeys, etc.; take that craziness up a notch or two and you've got Ludwig's second act.
Long gives the funniest performance of the show, especially in the scene when he is finally affected by the spell. Other standouts: Emilio Tirri as studio yes-man Daryl and Jimmy Bain as actor Joe E. Brown in blond-wigged drag for the "Pyramus and Thisbe" scene in the "Midsummer" movie.
If you know Shakespeare well enough to know who Thisbe is, or you know old Hollywood well enough to know who Brown, Cagney (Mischa Storer), Powell (Thomas Daniels) or gossip broadcaster Louella Parsons (Nora Chester) is, then there's another level or two of wordplay comedy that you're going to enjoy from this script. But even if those names mean nothing, the terrific performances make this somewhat bizarre mix of ideas into an entertaining, sometimes laugh-out-loud, summer finale.
(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)
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