It is with great pleasure that I write this review. Catholic University’s production of Ken Ludwig‘s Shakespeare in Hollywood is professional, outrageously funny, and brimming with voracious talent. Wittingly directed by Jay D. Brock, it’s full of hysterical physical comedy, a hefty helping of Shakespeare sonnets, and countless charming innuendos. The pace is perfect, keeping right up with the action demanded by the script, which is well-rounded with fully developed characters, a meaty plot, and exciting climaxes. The Shakespearean text in Ludwig’s play is authentic and pertinent to the action as it is experienced and brought to life by the talented cast of actors. All the key elements of theatre meld together to heighten anticipation and prep us for a wild ride complete with mysterious sound by Gregg Martin, clever lighting by Catherine Girardi, intricate set pieces with numerous changes by Dr. Thomas Donahue, and triumphant colorful period costumes by Celestine Ranney Howes.
The story begins in 1934, at Warner Brothers Studio in Hollywood, where a film version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being produced. Oberon (Graham Pilato) and Puck (Morgan Sendek) are transported from their world and magically appear on set. They are cast by the Austrian director Max Reinhardt (Robert Pike) as the stars of the film, playing none other than themselves. Oberon has become quite smitten with the actress Olivia Darnell (Marian Donahue) and believes she feels the same way. Chaos and hilarity ensue when their attempt to cast a love spell on Olivia goes awry.
Fantastic energy, an active presence, and strength in objectives abound onstage as every cast member brings life to each character. The versatile ensemble includes Max Applewhite, Kira Burri, Lauren Snyder, and Paul Luckenbaugh (also comedically plays Sam Warner and Tarzan). The men of the WB studio include Joe E. Brown (Philip da Costa), Jack Warner (Bobby Gallagher), Dick Powell (Brendan McMahon), Will Hays (Anthony Papastrat), Daryl (Seth Rosenke), and Cagney (Robert Schumacher).
Rosenke’s Daryl is comfortable onstage, with a natural presence and great comedic timing and physicality that reached to the back row of the house and earned many laughs. Papastrat plays a stern Hays, which makes it even better when he’s caught off guard and has a ridiculously funny encounter with himself in a mirror. McMahon’s Powell is kind and earnest, a true gentleman. Gallagher’s Warner is anxious and also very cool at the same time, a great mix for a complicated character in love with the rambunctious Lydia. Philip da Costa’s Brown is smart, quick, and very funny in his interactions and he is dressed in drag for the film. Schumacher’s Cagney is down-to-earth, witty, and relatable as a result. Pike’s Reinhardt has great drive as he directs and creates passionate moments of connection to the text.
The women in this play are wickedly smart. Reporter Louella Parsons is played with sophistication and sass by Briana Manente, who takes a journey throughout the play and convincingly ends up in an unexpected state. Ditzy bombshell Lydia is expertly played by Jess Schladebeck complete with an accent, dry humor, brilliant punchline delivery, and truly wanting what she’s going for.
Marian Donahue is a joy to watch. Her many scenes brighten the stage with her professional, graceful stage presence and natural demeanor. Her strong motivations show that she has clearly done her background work. She completely won me over in the first scene with her vulnerability and presence.
Donahue and Pilato are a sparkling romantic duo. Pilato is strong and cavalier with so much vigor and authenticity in his delivery. Beautiful gentle moments between the two of them are tender as they recite sonnets with honesty and intrigue. Pilato is her Prince Charming, sweeping her off her feet. He is a fabulous Oberon, with an endearing quirkiness at times the script calls for, and yet remains dashing and steadfast with his plans and incredibly relatable as a result. I was beyond impressed.
Pilato and Sendek are a fantastic scheming pair as Oberon and Puck, casting spells as mysterious magical music plays and the lights dim and flicker. There is never a dull moment when these two are onstage, as their pace is incredible. Their amazing connection, playful banter, and execution of massive chunks of text are all exciting and transport me to another world. Sendek is an outstanding Puck. Her impressive acrobatic skills make her light and quick on her feet as she tumbles around the space. She’s absolutely adorable, cunning, and vibrantly full of life.
Catholic University’s Shakespeare in Hollywood is an outrageously funny production that is sure to have you in a great mood by the end of the evening. The audience broke out in spontaneous applause after many of the scenes and howled with laughter. It’s absolutely worth your time to see these talented actors in a hearty, insanely well-written and executed play.
Running time: Two hours, including one 15 minute intermission.
Shakespeare in Hollywood plays through April 21, 2013 with a special performance on April 26, 2013 at Catholic University’s Hartke Theatre – 3801 Harewood Road, NE, in Washington, DC. Tickets can be purchased online, or by calling (202) 319-4000.