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Emily Dohahoe as Puck and Casey Biggs as Oberon - Arena Stage; PC: Scott Suchman

Stellar "Shakespeare in Hollywood" Raises the Bard

The News-Review – Roseburg, Oregon

September 18, 2006

Have you ever noticed that some novelists like to write novels about novelists writing novels? Ken Ludwig is a playwright who likes to write plays about theater, actors and acting.

And local theater groups seem to like doing them: Ludwig's "Lend Me a Tenor" has had two productions on the Roseburg stage in the last 15 years. Umpqua Community College presented his "Moon Over Buffalo" earlier this year. And now Umpqua Actors Community Theatre gives us his "Shakespeare In Hollywood," which opened last Friday at the Betty Long Unruh Theatre in Roseburg.

"Shakespeare" is a fairly recent play. It had its world premiere in 2003 in Washington, D.C., where it won the Helen Hayes Award as Best Play of the Year.

That award was richly deserved. Ludwig has the ability to write entertaining, fast-moving comedy that keeps audiences laughing and applauding. And director Marianne Jones of UACT has put together a talented cast for this production, providing plenty of clever bits of "business" to enhance Ludwig's script.

Old-timers like me might be reminded of the old 1940s movie "Hellzapoppin" with comedians Olsen and Johnson, one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. It was one of the most zany films ever made, and was also about making a movie. Ludwig's "Shakespeare" is just as zany.

The plot: In Hollywood of the 1930s, producer Jack Warner of Warner Brothers (played marvelously by Gary Gohman) is finagled by his dippy girlfriend (a perfect performance by Kathleen Carson) into starring her in a filming of Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream" with the famous European director Max Reinhardt (nicely done by Russ Cole). Complications arise immediately. Censor Will Hays of the notorious Hays Office demands cleaning up Shakespeare's plot. Actors for the roles of Oberon and Puck become unavailable. And the leading lady is impossibly bad at acting.

And then, magically, the real Oberon, the king of the fairies, with his sidekick Puck, appears on the scene and that really makes for problems. As things get worse, and then better, the laughs are inevitable.

James Barber as Oberon turns in a great performance. His regal stage presence, his thoughtful interpretation of the many Shakespearean lines, his deadpan malapropisms ("I'm going to be a moon!" "No," says Puck, "a STAR!") are the centerpiece of the show.

Carson's challenge as the girlfriend/leading lady is to convince us she is a lousy actress, and that takes real acting talent. She delivers in spades, in probably the funniest performances in the play, although on opening night she seemed to be suffering from some hoarseness.

Myana Clark Schulz as Louella Parsons puts the ultimate of energy and talent into the role of the dirt-digging gossip columnist. Clark-Schulz is always a pleasure to watch. Her performances on the Roseburg stage are always professional and convincing, and her Parsons is no exception.

Another delightful performance is by Ashley Dahl, as a young starlet. Last seen in UACT's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," where she played the seductive (and silent) wife of Potiphar, here she has plenty to say, starting with a rapid-fire monologue that she delivers perfectly. She is a pleasure to watch.

Kate Hill as the mischievous Puck was fun to watch, as the imp quickly adapts to Hollywood ways.

Costumes by Susan Blanchard of Alter Egos nicely reflected the 30s era, and, for Puck and Oberon, the world of fairies.

All in all, a delightfully fun show. Some language and situations are appropriate only for mature audiences.

Richard Packham of Dixonville is a retired college professor active in local community theater for many years who writes theater reviews for The News-Review.


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