Friday, November 26, 2010

City Newspaper: Review of "Shakespeare in Hollywood" Don't miss this play! It's great fun!

THEATER REVIEW: "Shakespeare in Hollywood"

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He's been dead nearly 400 years, but William Shakespeare is still one of the hardest-working men in show business. His plays remain staples of live theater, and over the past century many of them have been translated into films hundreds of times, either as direct adaptations or as the inspiration for twists on his familiar tales. Blackfriars' current production, "Shakespeare in Hollywood," has some fun with the Bard's cinematic exploits, specifically the production of Warner Bros. 1935 film version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Despite some significant problems with the play itself, the production is charming and thoroughly entertaining, and a real testament to the talent of its cast and crew.

"Hollywood" was written by Ken Ludwig ("Lend Me a Tenor," "Crazy for You"), and commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Like its spiritual cousin "Kiss Me Kate," it more or less tells the story of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" vis-�-vis a fictionalized take on the filming of the 1930's movie version of the play. Many of the characters in the show are interpretations of the cast and crew of the film, including director Max Reinhardt, producer Jack Warner, and actors Dick Powell, Jimmy Cagney, and Joe E. Brown. (Curiously, both leading ladies from the film have been recast for this play.) Those real-life Hollywood types are put through their paces after the Oberon and Puck of myth (and Shakespeare's play) accidentally materialize on the film set, and go about making fools fall in love, turning assholes into asses, and experiencing the finer points of Hollywood life.

I don't think I've ever heard an audience laugh so much or so often at a Blackfriars show. "Shakespeare" is a crowd-pleaser, and while the concept for the show is a smart one and the script includes some very funny lines, I give a lot of that credit to the cast and directors John Haldoupis and Linda Starkweather. Together they elevate material that could have been merely cute and turn it into something that produces real belly laughs.

Mark Scott Almekinder portrays veteran director Max Reinhardt, who fled to Hollywood from Austria to escape the encroaching Nazi movement. In real life Reinhardt couldn't speak a word of English during filming; in the play he speaks through a thick Eastern European accent, which Almekinder uses to great effect to underscore his fantastic sarcastic wit. Peter J. Doyle's Jack Warner is all blustering businessman until his girlfriend suddenly, inexplicably falls for another man, and then he turns into a big softie. Doyle nicely underplays several scenes that could have easily gone overboard.

The play really crackles the instant Cindy Hill sashays on stage as Lydia Lansing, Warner's chorus-girl girlfriend eager to shed her reputation as one of the Top 10 sluts of Hollywood (what an honor!) by appearing in a prestige picture like "Midsummer." Hill does go over the top in her gum-smacking, Jersey-accented, dim-bulb performance, but it's precisely what the role calls for, and she is outrageously funny in every scene she's in. The other female lead, Meghan Rose Tonery as Olivia Darnell, is lovely, restrained, and sweet, and believable each time she falls in love - at least three times, by my count - during the course of the play. One of those love interests is baseball-flick player Joe E. Brown, played sublimely by Doug Kester, who is funnier in drag than any of the queens of Rochester.

I was initially cool toward Marguerite Frarey's portrayal of the wood spirit Puck. Puck is the embodiment of mischief, but Frarey initially played him like a hyperactive preteen. As the show went along on opening night she tapped into Puck's naughtier instincts, and ended the show with a more rounded-out version of the character. Fred Neurnberg is an obvious choice to play Oberon, king of the fairies, and he does not disappoint. He is by turns fanciful, imperious, spiteful, smitten, giddy, and exasperated, but he never loses that quintessential regal air. Plus, listening to Neurnberg reciting even snippets of Shakespeare in that warm, weathered voice is a pleasure.

You'll get bits from many of Shakespeare's plays via Ludwig's script - in the introduction he calls himself a "Shakespeare addict to end all addicts." Unfortunately he doesn't trust his audience enough to catch them, and they're frequently blatantly ID'd by the characters. That level of obviousness can be found throughout the script, and it's disappointing, because Ludwig is capable of some sparkling dialogue. He just has a tendency to go for the easy wordplay whenever it presents itself.

That lack of restraint can also be found in Ludwig's frustrating decision to have characters directly address the audience, seemingly at random. I debated whether this was in deliberate homage to Shakespeare and his legendary soliloquies, but I don't think that's the case - some of them are used as an easy way to unload exposition (Reinhardt), some of them are used again to make sure the audience gets what's going on (Olivia's "letters" to her mother, informing her of her obvious feelings toward Oberon), and others are just bizarre. Why does the audience need to hear a brief recounting of the life of pioneering gossipmonger Louella Parsons, especially when she's so tangential to the proceedings?

"Shakespeare in Hollywood"

Through December 11

Blackfriars Theatre, 795 E Main St.

$15-$27 | 454-1260,

Glorious Day after Thanksgiving

All day yesterday as I prepare for Thanksgiving company, I listened to Christmas music, mostly the crooners (Crosby, Sinatra, Martin) were playing on the Sounds of the Season station, which I think is a station that plays Christmas music all year long. There were some song lyrics that stuck in my mind as I was chopping all the fresh veggies for my turkey's dressing . . .something that set the tone for the day, maybe this upcoming season of light; words that describe the choice of happiness. I created a Thanksgiving poem, which we read, each taking a line, when we gathered around the dinner table. My granddaughter Brigid rang the little gold bell at the appointed times, and it went well, even though there was no dress rehearsal. Then we sat down to a fabulous meal of mostly carbs and everyone was happy. Baby George was especially please by the black cherry & mandarin orange jello and the black olives that capped his fingertips perfectly.It was a lot of fun, but I think I washed every glass, bowl, platter, and fork-- I mean every utensil twice over the past two days.

It rained throughout the night. I could hear it pelting against the windows and the wind howling.

Woke up around 1:45 a.m. and drank a cup of Sugar Cookie tea with honey and thought about how to manage this upcoming weekend's time. I'm going to be at the Irondiquoit H.S. Craft Sale with my sister Karen on Saturday. I'm hoping it will be a great success! If you're in the neighborhood, stop by. We have some unique gifts.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

First Sign of Snow!

Snow! Big fat flakes, big as silver dollar pancakes, ker-plop! All day, Saturday's skies were roiling with clouds. I love this kind of weather. I love the shift t0 101 shades of brown and yellow. Yesterday, our local band of wild turkeys (14 in total) had a stand off with our ducks. The ducks retreated as the turkey march like an infantry until they had the ducks pushed back into their sleeping quarters. The ducks waited and waited, until the turkey got bored and wandered away.

I have no idea what this bird behavior means, but maybe the lesson is this:
When any of us feel pushed back or under attack, we should just wait quietly like the ducks and our adversaries will get bored and wander away.

This week promises weather in the 60s. Hard to believe after seeing the hard frost this morning.
I'm slowly getting caught up with things. So instead of fretting about how much more I need to do, I'm celebrating all that I've done, which is an enormous amount.

Went to see Nowhere Boy last night at The Little. On a scale of 10, I give this 7. There were many things I enjoyed about its storytelling, but it seemed like it took a long time getting its legs.
You have to be very patient while watching this film, and you have to listen carefully. Some of the lines were lost to the heavy accents. I'm going to look forward to seeing this at home.

Everyone in my house is getting early Christmas presents. Books are being exchanged. Family members are curled up in blankets reading reading reading. Cup of tea, anyone?

I like today. Today we have 25 hours. I have an extra hour to do whatever I please. I feel sorry for the states who don't participate in Daylight Savings Time. It's just an ordinary day for them.

The end.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Week, Weekend, What? November.

What? a week? a weekend? gone? Now November. Next week Daylight Savings Time.
A hour to fall back on.

Upcoming: Poet Todd Fleming Davis will be visiting St. John Fisher College on
11/4/2010-11/05/2010. His reading on 11/04/2010 will be held in Golisano Gateway Midlevel.
We're celebrating his newest collection of poetry The Least of These (Michigan UP, 2010).
If you're in our neighborhood, I hope you will be in the audience. Book signing to follow the reading.


I ordered my turkey for Thanksgiving. I'm counting my blessings.


Went to see Heather Roffe's dance company FuturPointe at GeVa's Next Stage today. So glad I didn't miss it. High energy, with infusion of sound, image and dance. Favorite dances:
1. Dreamstate Altered, 2. Lup and 3. History of X. Heather choreographed 5 of the dances presented. I wish my Encounters class had seen this show. They would have loved it. Much to admire in this company's vision. They're doing something different, which was a pleasure to watch, and the whole company shines in their talent together and solo.

Keep your eye out for future FuturPointe performances. Not to be missed.


I'm getting a full blown cold. Need to go back to bed. Later.