Making a film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Shakespeare in Hollywood

Contributing writer for The Olympian

“Shakespeare in Hollywood,” opening Friday (May 5) at Olympia Little Theatre, is a farce with a basis in fact.

Rich Young, Jenni Fleming, Maria Densley and Paul Wirtz, cast members in “Shakespeare in Hollywood.” Picasa Courtesy

Ken Ludwig’s 2003 play, commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Co., is set during the filming of the 1935 movie “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” starring James Cagney (Alex Hume) and Mickey Rooney, who played Puck in the film but doesn’t show up onstage.

In this “Hollywood,” though, fairies are real and they’re ready for their close-up. Shakespeare’s Oberon (Dan Overton) and Puck (Orit Wernor) wind up playing themselves.

As Ludwig reimagines events, “Mickey Rooney has broken his leg and isn’t able to be there, and Victor Jory, who played Oberon, has quit,” said Kendra Malm, the play’s director and Olympia Little Theatre’s artistic manager. “When Oberon and Puck show up, they’re right for the parts.”

The show incorporates other fantastical elements from the Shakespeare comedy, including a magical flower with the power to make people fall in love.

“There are several inappropriate infatuations,” Malm said. “Plus, someone does get turned into an ass.

“It’s a really fun show,” she said. “The era is really interesting. And doing Shakespeare is always fun. People want to do Shakespeare, and they get to do a little bit of it in this when they’re filming some of the scenes, but without having to commit to doing a full Shakespeare play.”

Ludwig did a lot of research into the behind-the-scenes action and included many elements of truth in the script — including Rooney’s broken leg, the result of a skiing accident. Unlike in the play, Rooney kept his role, although Warner Bros. executives were reportedly upset that they had to rearranged the shooting schedule.

Among the real “Hollywood” celebrities are director Max Reinhardt (Paul Parker), studio executive Jack Warner (Rich Young), actors Joe E. Brown (Conner Nuckols) and Dick Powell, and gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Rhoni Lozier).

The play, which has been described as a latter-day screwball comedy, won a 2004 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play.

Ludwig is well-known for such plays as “Lend Me a Tenor,” “Moon Over Buffalo” and “Crazy for You,” which won a Tony for Best Musical in 1992.

In 2015, Olympia Little Theatre produced his “The Game’s Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays),” which like “Hollywood” is a farce with literary, theatrical and historical elements and plenty of twists and turns.

“Holmes’s” main character is actor William Gillette, who adapted Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes for the stage. In Ludwig’s play, Gillette finds himself confronted with a murder mystery.

“I knew Ken Ludwig was a reliable author,” Malm said, “and the title sounded intriguing, so I picked it up and found it was a really fun play.”

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