Playwright Ken Ludwig is best known for madcap American farces such as “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Moon Over Buffalo.” So what possessed him to pitch an idea several years ago to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)?
The RSC wondered the same thing.
“What on earth would that master of American screwball comedy want with a classical Shakespearean ensemble?” wrote Simon Reade, the company’s literary manager, in a later account.
Turned out, Ludwig wanted to mash screwball and Shakespeare together to see what would happen.
Reade went ahead and commissioned the play, and the result was “Shakespeare in Hollywood,” which opens tonight at the Spokane Civic Theatre.
It’s a madcap comedy about Hollywood’s legendary 1934 filming of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with unlikely stars Mickey Rooney and Jimmy Cagney.
The Civic version is directed by Wes Deitrick. Kathie Doyle-Lipe plays the role of Puck.
Reade called the finished play “poetic and political” and a “mini-epic.”
“Yet it’s also got a screw loose,” he said. “The playwright’s having a ball.”
The RSC never actually produced the play, because of internal politics. The Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., took the project over and premiered it in 2003. It went on to win the Helen Hayes Award for Best New Play.
The Baltimore Sun called it “at once poignant and funny, literary and farcical, sophisticated and silly, political and fanciful, high-brow and low-brow.”
Ludwig said he hit upon a rich lode of comic material when he started researching Hollywood’s 1934 attempt to go high-brow.
The production featured plenty of larger-than-life characters, including Cagney, leading man Dick Powell, Austrian director Max Reinhardt, gossip columnist Louella Parsons, studio head Jack Warner, rubber-faced comic Joe E. Brown and self-appointed censor Will Hays, who made mighty efforts to sanitize Shakespeare.
All of those characters make appearances in “Shakespeare in Hollywood.”
Ludwig throws two more characters into the mix: Oberon and Puck, the genuine fairies from Shakespeare’s play. They fly in to Hollywood from, more or less, fairyland, and they end up playing themselves in the film.
Those two fairies caused all kinds of romantic mischief in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Expect them to do more of the same in “Shakespeare in Hollywood,” especially as played by two of Spokane’s best comic actors, Doyle-Lipe and Damon Mentzer.
Jamie Flanery plays Reinhardt; Brian Cheney plays Hays; Anne Selcoe plays Parsons; Jaylan Renz plays Powell; Kris Herda plays Cagney; and David Czinger plays Brown.
Other cast members include May Deitrick, Ric Benson, Bryan Durbin, Kristin McKernan, Anne Mitchell, Stephen S. Warner, Ted Redman, Mark Sims and Emily Berger.