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Shakespeare in Hollywood, a 1930s comedy, bring magic and mayhem to Olympia

Dan Overton as Oberon and Orit Wernor as Puck in OLT’s Shakespeare in Hollywood. Photo courtesy Olympia Little Theatre

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Shakespeare in Hollywood by legendary playwright Ken Ludwig, author of such popular plays as Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo, and Twentieth Century, brings a bit of magic and a lot of mayhem to Olympia Little Theatre. The concept is brilliant, even as it asks audiences to forsake logic and believability a tad more than such a comedy should.

It is 1934. Hollywood mogul Jack Warner (Rich Young) has hired the famous German expatriate director Max Reinhardt (Paul Parker) to direct a film version of Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream starring leading man Dick Powell (Paul Wirtz). Magically, the fairies Oberon (Dan Overton) and Puck (Orit Wernor) from Shakespeare's play visit the set. They immediately see that actors in Hollywood are treated like gods. Conveniently for the plot of this whacky comedy, the actors who had been cast to play Oberon and Puck are suddenly no longer available, and the fairies are offered the opportunity to play themselves in the movie. They jump at the opportunity.

Into this madcap mix, a slew of unlikely romances are born when pollen from Shakespeare's magical flower gets in people's eyes and each proceeds to fall madly in love with the next person they see. Mostly unnecessary to the plot, a handful of celebrities show up, some in cameos and some in more substantial roles: Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Rhoni Lozier), comedians Joe E. Brown (Conner Nuckols) and Groucho Marx (Alex Hume), and actor James Cagney (also played by Hume); not to mention "Tarzan" (played by Nuckols, who triples as another of the Warner brothers).

Also appearing in various small roles are Randall Graham and the play's director, Kendra Malm as "Tina Tian."   

The acting is uneven with some of the characters who play multiple roles - there are many of these - being good in some parts and ridiculous in others. Nuckols, for instance, is good as Sam Warner but totally uninteresting as Joe E. Brown, Bob Lozier is good as the nasty censor Will Hayes but not so good as Harry Warner and Moose Tarseid, and Humes' Groucho is unconvincing while being too much like countless other Groucho imitations. Fortunately, he's on stage in that role for only a few seconds.

The standout performer is Overton as the fairy king Oberon. He plays Oberon as delightfully arrogant, and he enjoyably displays constant surprise at what life is like in the 20th century. Lozier is a good Louella Parsons, and Young is humorously dictatorial as studio head Jack Warner. Jenni Fleming as starlet Lydia Lansing and Maria Densley as actress Olivia Darnell are both good.

Will Hayes falling in love with his own image in a mirror is a comic treasure.

The funniest bit in the whole show opening night was a wardrobe malfunction, which I'm pretty sure was an accident. I hope they'll incorporate it into all remaining shows.

Shakespeare in Hollywood is really, really funny in spots and as clumsy, over-acted and ridiculous as a bad high school comedy in other moments.

Shakespeare in Hollywood, 7:25 p.m., Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m., Sunday, through Sept. 18, Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia, tickets $18-$20, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360.786.9484, olympialittletheatre.org

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