Theater

The Bard and Golden-age Hollywood Clash at The Granite Theatre

Fantasy and reality collide in Granite Theatre's production of Shakespeare in Hollywood

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What would happen if a fictional character came to life one day? Say a king in his own world, ruling his people and doing kingly things (or, if this is Game of Thrones, dying) suddenly found himself here. What would he do? When the king of the fairies, Oberon, and his servant, Puck, are plucked from A Midsummer Night’s Dream they set their sights on the silver screen in Shakespeare in Hollywood, which is being produced by the Granite Theatre starting on June 19.

The year is 1934 when Oberon and Puck appear in the strange land of Hollywood. They’re discovered being, well, themselves, by the fictional version of director Max Reinhardt, whose producing A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Warner Bros. and is fretting over the casting. Already having been forced to hire Jack Warner’s mistress, he’s elated to find two “actors” who perfectly encapsulate the characters of Oberon and Puck. Drawn by the allure of the big screen they sign on. While Puck keeps his sights on fame, fortune and adulation, Oberon develops a bond with fellow cast member Olivia and sets to make her his. He orders Puck to produce a magic flower that causes people to fall in love with the first person they see. So of course, his plan goes awry and the flower gets around, creating love triangles and complications on the set.

Shakespeare in Hollywood was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and it premiered in 2003. Granite Theatre director David Jepson highlights the play’s time period and author as reasons for their production. “It was written by the premier writer of American farces, Ken Ludwig,” David says. “It’s also set in an iconic era of Hollywood in the 1930s when such movies as Gone With The Wind, Wizard of Oz and A Midsummer’s Night Dream were being created. The show is populated by directors (Max Reinhardt) and producers (Jack Warner) and stars Dick Powell, James Cagney and Joe E. Brown of the era. It’s a glorious trip back to Tinseltown.”

Reinhardt, who has fled his Nazi-occupied homeland of Austria, is trying to hold the entire production together, amid a set of circumstances caused by both human nature and magic. Oberon, the king that is used to getting what he wants, wants Olivia. The mischievous Puck is in love with being loved, cigarchomping Hollywood suits want profit, Warner wants his mistress to be satisfied, the mistress wants to be taken seriously and all the while everything about the classic-era Hollywood production is descending into chaos. Of course, you’d expect some grandiosity from a play that combines old school Hollywood with Shakespeare.

“The challenges are a dazzling array of scenes (27 of them) moving from movie sets to wardrobe rooms to producers offices,” David says. “We also need the clothing of the ‘30s as well as Shakespearean garb. Our actors also need to convey impressions of stars of yesteryear unfamiliar to some of the younger actors portraying them whose homework includes studying older films.”

Comedies always start by eliciting laughter from the audience, and by the end most attempt to invoke empathy towards the characters. That’s the thing, at first, we the audience just want to be entertained. By the end, we know these people and we’re actively rooting for (or against) them. Shakespeare has plenty of humor as well as emotion. “It would be impossible to say if it’s more comedy than a love story since it is so perfectly both,” David says. “What it’ll end up being is what you want to take from it – most likely both.”

Granite Theatre has several other projects of interest to both theater-go-ers and actors. “The Renaissance City Theatre Inc (RCTI) of the Granite Theatre is in its 15th season,” David says. “We have open auditions and welcome new actors to the auditions as well as our workshops and classes. There are often opportunities in stage management, directing and volunteers for committee work. We have collaborative projects with the Westerly High School and the YMCA where children’s theatre classes and summer theatre camp is offered at Camp Watchaug. We have a very active production season of eight major shows that include a major musical and a musical revue in addition to comedies and mysteries.”

Shakespeare in Hollywood
June 19-July 19
Granite Theatre
One Granite Street, Westerly