Wednesday, April 08, 2009

review of *Shakespeare in Hollywood*

on the Main Stage at Spokane Civic Theater through April 19

Make the screwball even screwier, and director Wes Deitrick will have created a complete comedy in the farcical romp through A Midsummer Night's Dream that is playwright Ken Ludwig's Shakespeare in Hollywood (at the Civic through April 19).
Deitrick kicks off the show delightfully with fake vintage newsreels of the Civic's cast, shot as if they're arriving at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Ludwig's comedy, you see, imagines the what-if when Oberon and Puck — the characters ... you know, Shakespeare's real-life (!) fairies — were to time-travel to 1935 and get mixed up in Max Reinhardt's mistaken-identity Midsummer movie, with its art deco look and celebrities substituting for experienced stage actors.
Ludwig's script calls for a lot of exposition, so we'll be up on who the studio mogul, director, actors and moral crusader were. Fortunately, most of the narration falls to Jamie Flanery as Max Reinhardt, the Austrian director on the run from the Nazis and hoping to make a prestige picture. Flanery deadpans his jokes, fuming over these American philistines almost as much as he does his German oppressors.
The master Shakespearean here is Damon C. Mentzer as Oberon (low bow, distinguished British baritone), King of the Fairies. At various points, Mentzer gives us snippets of Oberon's Midsummer poetry, lending a little plausibility to an airy spirit being mistaken for a real-life actor. When he cuddles cheek to cheek with Kristin McKernan (as ingénue Olivia de Havilland, all quivering blonde ringlets), you can practically see the glints on Mentzer's teeth.
As the producer's main squeeze, Anne Lillian Mitchell brays her Bronx accent and sashays her star quality all over the office of producer Jack Warner (Ric Benson). Like Judy Holiday in Born Yesterday, she wants so much to master all this high-falutin' Shake-speah, only to let the guttersnipe show through when it's least convenient. Playing a broad with pretensions, Mitchell conveyed both stupidity and vulnerability in an effective star turn.
As Puck — Oberon's merry prankster of a sidekick — diminutive Kathie Doyle-Lipe manages at times, however, to be as bothersome as Mickey Rooney was in the ‘30s movie. (And if you've seen Rooney's pop-up gopher mannerisms and hyper-ventilating, screechy cackles, you know how annoying scene-stealing mania can be.) Even in a gender-bending screwball comedy in which big lug David Czinger spends most of the evening in drag (Rhine maiden braids, plodding steps and balloon breasts), it seems off-key to stick Doyle-Lipe in a male role and have her character trolling for “hot chicks” at Hollywood parties. Doyle-Lipe makes a cute dwarf tourist, sauntering offstage with her head and sunglasses waggling, but Puck isn't the focus of every scene he/she is in, and gofers shouldn’t giggle like maniacs.
Deitrick directs inventively, with Puck making entrances and a final exit in surprising ways. But he needs to demand a more frenetic pace from his cast; in particular, in two scenes with the four Warner Brothers, cues need to be picked up much more quickly.
David Baker's garden-party set for Act Two displayed marble-and-palm-tree elegance — along with the cutest little illuminated Hollywoodland sign on a distant hillside.
In the finale, Ludwig calls for farewells that are supposed to be full of regret but feel unearned. In a similar way, the hijinks of the Civic’s Shakespeare in Hollywood, often very funny, need to bust through their restraints.

[ photo: Jamie Flanery as Max Reinhardt and Anne Mitchell as Lydia in Ken Ludwig's *Shakespeare in Hollywood,* April 2009, Spokane Civic Theater, directed by Wes Deitrick ]

Labels: , , ,


At April 08, 2009 7:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dang BoBo,
You did a nice job on this review - good show. You pointed out the nice stuff some of the folks did, didn't talk too badly about those that actually were and touched on the set while pointing out the tempo issues of this should be a a farce play. Nice review - dead on.

At April 16, 2009 7:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

this reader had a big statement about your review. They didn't want to post it, because they didn't think you'd let them. I'd like to see you prove them wrong.

To what extent are we willing to let a public writer go? Does a reviewer have the right to list actors on a stage as "Morons with Beach Balls"? What about commenting on physical attributes of an actor on stage? Alright, a reviewer could say "an attractive young man" or "striking eyes". But what about "fat pig", "skinny twerp", "zit faced freak"? What is the writer's responsibility? If it is not pertinent to the play and simply a comment on the person, is the writer serving the public or himself?

Now over the years we've read Bowen's reviews. He's insulted the weight challenged, the large people of the stage, the small people of the stage. Has he ever insulted the hair challenged or the thin that anyone can recall?

Let's get specific. In the last two shows the unique and beautiful Kathie Doyle-Lipe has done, he has referred to her as the diminutive Kathie Doyle-Lipe. Does Spokane need to know that Kathie is small in stature anymore than they need to know that she is giant in generosity and humanity? Was the comment pertinent to the show? Does her stature on stage make a difference in whether one should see the show or not?

Let's get more specific. As annoying as it probably is to Kathie, diminutive is the "politically correct" term, and so, Bowen uses it -- to start. But then, in her last review he goes on to add: "...Doyle-Lipe makes a cute dwarf tourist... ...and gofers shouldn’t giggle like maniacs". Bowen makes the comments presumably because he doesn't approve of Deitrick casting her in a "male role" even though the playwright requires a woman to be cast in the role. (Another topic for the future: Should reviewers be required to read the play before judging director and casting choices). Staying focused: Here is the definition of


a person of abnormally small stature owing to a pathological condition, esp. one suffering from cretinism or some other disease that produces disproportion or deformation of features and limbs.

Bowen often does not know that his creative writing wits and jokes have the potential of putting good people in tears. Regardless of whether he likes her performance or not, I think reviewers need to be held accountable for their choice of words when they are potentially hurtful.

So why this blog? Because Bowen actually let an anonymous poster agree with those hurtful comments. Why? To double the insult? Or to agree with his opinion?

I doubt he would have permitted this blog comment. So... a new Spokane theater blog.

At April 16, 2009 9:27 PM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

The writer raises some good points.
"Morons with beach balls" was always intended as a comment (which I'll stand by) on the CHARACTERS in that particular scene in *Nanette.* A perceptive reader wrote me privately to ask that I rephrase for the print review, fearing that young actors might not catch the characters/selves distinction. I did so. (Don't have copies of both in front of me, but that was the gist.)
I assume the three "fat pig" insults are hypothetical; I haven't used them, and wouldn't.

In many cases, I think color-blind casting and this pretense that we should somehow be blind to the physical attributes of an actor is ridiculous, or at least way overstated, and we're all too sensitive about it.

A short digression: An all-black cast for Death of a Salesman or even Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? Patrick Stewart playing Othello as the only white guy in an otherwise all-black world? You betcha. Interesting.
Though in Shakespeare's history plays, when a black man is supposed to be accepted as the Duke of Norfolk back in the 14th century -- I'm sorry, but that pops me right out of the play.

An obese person (not heavy, obese) should not, in my opinion, play Hamlet (the ideal prince, the observed of all observers, neurotic with nervous excitement) or Cassius (with his lean and hungry look). My point simply being that there are limits: Some physical types preclude certain roles.
End of irrelevant digression.

You're right about the redundancy of telling Spokane audiences that Kathie Doyle-Lipe is short. They've known it for years, and if they haven't, they just saw it tonight onstage.

And you're right about my ignorance that Ludwig calls for a woman in that role. I didn't know that, and should have.
I often read scripts beforehand. I usually consult them after, while I'm writing. I was lazy this time and didn't do either.
If it's a play that's new to me, I often deliberately read only the first half -- enough to get the setup, not so much as to ruin the ending.

Nonetheless, it popped me out of the play to have a woman chasing after "hot chicks." If Ludwig didn't allow for flipping the pronouns, then I think he's wrong. I see no objection to having a female mischief-making chasing after attractive young men in this play.

I disagree that my use of "dwarf" was offensive. It was descriptive, not meant literally.

You or anyone else can make fun of bald people all you want. We all ought to be able to laugh at ourselves.
To get far more personal for a moment, let me just name two other topics -- being adopted/adoptive and being subfertile -- that, without going into further detail, are certainly areas (of potential derision) that I _might_ not find funny, depending on context. But I can also laughs at such foibles and life situations and shortcomings, too. I truly believe that there is a tragic and comic side to just about everything. (Even at a funeral, I think farts are funny. Even at my mother's funeral. Especially at my funeral.) My point being that, in this production, Kathie's lack of height and David Czinger's abundance of it were both very much part of their comic effects onstage.

But to get to my main point (thank God, at last) about Kathie as Puck: IMO, she over-acted.
I'd absolutely stand by my line about how gofers shouldn't giggle maniacally. Here's why.
Puck is Oberon's gofer. He/she is an entertaining figure, but also an agent of change. The chief focus should be on how Puck affects others, NOT on Robin Goodfellow himself.
Step back to the '35 movie: loved it, loved Victor Jory and the special effects, loved the art deco look.
HATED Mickey Rooney. He was AWFUL in it. He was a hyper-active 14-year-old kid who didn't know better and stole scenes shamelessly. He was AWFUL in it in a manner opposite to the way in which Keanu Reeves was AWFUL in Kenneth Branagh's 1993 Much Ado: manic vs. wooden. Both of them were AWFUL, and we're all entitled to our opinions, and I'm not wavering in mine about those two performances.
In my view, Kathie (and Wes?) took a look at Mickey Rooney in '35 and thought "... do that."
Not a good choice then or now: distorts the scenes.
As counterexamples: Kathie in Rabbit Hole, and Stanley Tucci as Puck in the '99 (?) movie.
I interviewed Kathie once by e-mail, and she expressed worry about ever doing justice to a serious role -- everybody knows she can be brilliant at comedy -- and she was reserved, bitchy, repressed, angry, wonderful as the grandmother of the dead boy in Rabbit Hole at ARt. She was exceptionally good in a serious role. I was so happy for her, amazed by her. Subtle, riveting, sad, angry, reserved, really good.
Tucci, seeing rightly that Rooney's poor example was something to be reacted against, chose wise-ass deadpan as his tone for Puck: the mischievous smart ass who is all the more powerful and funny because he's so clearly matter-of-fact about making these mortals look foolish.

My problem is that Kathie's head-bobbing practically screamed "Look at me!" when her character was not the primary focus of a scene.

Kathie is indeed a "giant of compassion and humanity." I like her a lot, respect her a great deal. She was a hilarious and touching Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls at the Civic in '03 when I was just some schmuck in a minor, non-singing role: a real pro, and I would watch her from the wings night after night. I _still_ feel honored to have observed some of the banter and sheer child-like delight in acting that she and Troy Nickerson exchanged during that farce they did at CenterStage. (Middle-aged forgetfulness, can't recall the title, ass that I am.)

So I appreciate and like Kathie.
Funny thing, this bit of being an audience favorite, doing the same schtick for years and years onstage. It must be seductive: They like my tricks, I'll do them over and over. And I may be very much in error, the grumpy critic who's seen her 16 times onstage and I can't just smother her with love every single time or people will think I've lost my edge as a grumpy critic.
So I could very well be wrong here.
I mean, my God, the woman does cartwheels at whatever age she is, and I never could, even when I was a kid.
But the play is foremost -- not the actress or the director or anyone else in the production, and CERTAINLY not the critic.
And I thought Kathie was at times overacting in *Hollywood* and doing a disservice to the play, and I said so.
She is not sacrosanct, and neither am I. Though if you have to compare the two of us, she's clearly sacrosancter than me. Because I'm bald.
And then there's all the flatulence.

At April 17, 2009 11:29 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The farce at Centerstage was Tour de Farce directed by Tom Heppler in the fall of 07.

At April 17, 2009 4:31 PM , Anonymous Wes said...

Hi Michael,

That was a lengthy comment you wrote. Even longer than the review. This most likely will be lengthy as well. We both know from previous conversations that we agree on very little when it comes to performances. That’s part of what makes the world so interesting. We probably also know that at our ages, mutable and flexible with our opinions are not words that will be flung our way too often. That’s not my intention in responding to your comment. Please be clear that I am writing mostly in response to your comment on this page and NOT on your review (which I view as your job and responsibility to report).
I’m becoming worried that Kathie Doyle-Lipe may never work with me again as a director. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her three times: as an actor, Inspecting Carol and director, The Foreigner and Shakespeare In Hollywood. I’m concerned because when I direct her, you blog an “overacting” review of her not once, but twice per play. To do the math, I’ve directed her twice and you’ve reviewed her four times in excruciating negative detail. I’m compelled to respond to this, the fourth review of her, not only because it’s too much, but thankfully, my name is in this last one as well. I take pride that I would never put an actor in a position to overdo anything and be left to ridicule. Obviously, there’s never any absolutes in theatre, but it remains one of my goals nonetheless.
As you know from a comment I wrote you years ago that I take full accountability for all performances in a show I direct. So here is where I think you’re right: 1) You have an opinion that must be written. 2) Mickey Rooney was AWFUL in the 1935 movie!
Here’s one of the places where I think you’re wrong: I despised Victor Jory as well. He was also AWFUL in the 1935 movie! In fact, James Cagney was AWFUL in the 1935 movie. The outstanding performance of the movie was Joe E. Brown and he adlibbed Shakespeare and spit too many sunflower seeds.
Clearly, you’re comment that Kathie and Wes “Looked at Mickey Rooney in ’35 and thought, Do that!” is incorrect. Mickey Rooney was like nails on a chalkboard to me. Kathie’s Puck is delightful to me. Here’s how it went down: I was given the assignment to direct the show over a year ago. Truth is, I never saw the movie until the year 2008. From that time on, I have seen it no less than four times (mostly for design and prop notes). One evening, most the cast and crew watched it at Alice Kennedy’s place. Fun time. Some members of the cast commented that they liked Mickey Rooney in the movie (Kathie wasn’t one of them). Opinions are valid all over. Max Reinhardt clearly liked Mickey Rooney as Puck. Mickey Rooney was the only actor in the movie who also played in Reinhardt’s Hollywood stage production. Not only that, but Rooney was loaned to Warner Brothers for the movie from his contract studio, MGM, at Reinhardt’s request. Acting, even in 1935, was not the strong element of this movie as it received 4 Academy Award nominations, none of which were for acting. It won, Cinematography and Editing, it lost Best Picture and Best Assistant Director (Reinhardt couldn’t speak English). Mickey Rooney actually didn’t steal scenes in the movie as most of his scenes were shot after principle shooting had wrapped (he really did break his leg while skiing with his mother during this job). That’s why he is mostly covered alone and in close up. Given the above, it is obvious that my opinion of Kathie’s performance and yours are vastly different. She is not playing Mickey Rooney’s Puck.
I am, however, bothered that I am pretty lame and slow when it comes to picking up hints. I’ve always had that problem. Whenever I get a wink and a nod, I think I must have some dumbfounded face pasted on. Then when I do get it, I feel pretty dumb. It wasn’t until after the fact when someone mentioned to me that the blog had a picture of Kathie as Puck and a question mark by her name that the pieces came together (Questioning the casting of her in the role way before the play ever previewed). I knew you hadn’t read the play, as we talked at intermission and you asked about the newsreel we put together. Not reading the play doesn’t bother me, though I believe Ludwig’s Puck gender jokes fell on deaf ears. But before the play started you told me that you loved the movie and asked me with a knowing smile if I had cast anyone like Mickey Rooney to play Puck. I know I had that dumb “huh?” look on my face thinking that you must know that I hadn’t because I cast Kathie Doyle-Lipe. So, now I feel pretty dumb again for not getting that question until after your two reviews came out. But now that I have finally put 2+2+2 together and think it equals 6, I must validate my conclusion and ask you if you came into the theater with both barrels loaded to blast Kathie Doyle-Lipe as Puck? If so, that is an obstacle that is difficult for any performer to overcome.
Here’s a fact: When I first received the job to direct this play and read it, Kathie Doyle-Lipe was the first and honestly, only person I thought of to play Puck. I was fortunate that she auditioned. On opening night I stole a line from the play to say to the cast in a pre-curtain pep talk. It’s a Max Reinhardt line. He says to Olivia, “I am genius for hiring you”. I said to the volunteer cast of Shakespeare in Hollywood, “I am genius for casting you” and I stick to that statement. :o)
I also don’t entirely agree with your statement of who Puck is in your comment. If I were asked: who is Puck, the first thought in mind would not be Oberon’s gofer. In fact, a servant of Oberon would be the last in the list of descriptions I would use for Puck. First would be an other worldly fairy who is a mischievous prankster, jokester, jester, devil or demon known for changing shapes, misleading travelers at night, spoiling milk, frightening young girls, and tripping old dames. And in being that character, Puck must get pleasure from his handiwork. Robin Goodfellow was known for his laugh. Robin GoodFellow/Puck in English folklore is a bigger and more common than Oberon who is more related to German and French folklore. Shakespeare created Robin Goodfellow/Puck to have no interest in humans except as sport, but Ludwig, obviously, did not do that as his Puck, “played” by a woman (suspend belief) had an interest in sex with women at 9:30 in the morning. It is a farce in which the stakes should be played at the top and at times peeking over. (I agree with my daughter’s 6th grade teacher that a comedy about A Midsummer’s Night Dream is redundant, but it’s also a hoot).
I don’t have the time to continue further with this as I could write pages more of boring material pertaining to how 1200 period costume pieces could be overlooked in the reviews, and many other facts on the characters and times of the 1935 movie. Other than the theatre community, I don’t know who reads all this anyway. If you want to talk further on it, email me and we’ll have coffee.
I do want to add that I agree with the new blog on choices of words used. Dwarf, literally or not, just isn’t right for my standards. Everyone in my family is very small and I know how sensitive they are to it. IMO, it wouldn’t be right if you were writing a positive review of her, and it is even less right with a negative one. I understand you trying to justify it by saying everyone’s too sensitive. But I’ve seen other examples of your writing that isn’t about an obese person playing Hamlet. In fact, I remember your review of Will Gilman in The Foreigner. He was an obese person playing a “hot coke gulping Georgia bigot” and you wrote that he played the “heavy” and effectively threw his “weight” around or something like that. I don’t know Will or Kathie that well, but I think that I know that if you thought for a second that those comments might have hurt their feelings, you wouldn’t have written it. At least I hope so. I will say this: If while sitting alone in a living room where nobody is looking at them and nobody can hear them and they cry over it, it shouldn’t be done. As I said, I don’t know them that well, and nobody really knows the tears of a clown. If your opinion is that she overacted, then that’s your opinion (that I don’t share) to print – the cute dwarf stuff, in my opinion – unnecessary. I apologize in advance if this comment in any way hurts your feelings.

Wes Deitrick

At April 17, 2009 5:28 PM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

Thanks, Wes, for your comments. And I'm writing to have coffee with you.
One factual misunderstanding: I can see why you would think the (?) after Kathie's name as a blog caption was meant as questioning your decision in casting her.
But that never entered my mind.
From the photo alone, I thought it was Kathie but wasn't sure. So I checked my e-mail -- the Civic, by that point, had not sent me the cast list. Nor was it posted on the Website. (Perhaps it got eaten in transit or I deleted it by mistake -- in any case, I didn't have it. I was busy; I chose not to call. My mistake.
But it was not a criticism of your casting. In fact, I think it was good, even inspired casting. She fits the bill in many ways. She was, in my opinion, good in several scenes. But I think that predominately, her performance was distractingly goofy.
We disagree on that.
But I absolutely did not go into the show having it out for Kathie Doyle-Lipe. I thought the entire show had good potential and was intrigued by the casting of Kathie.
I admire your detailed knowledge of the movie, as of course you'd have to have in order to direct this show. I've seen it twice, both in the early '90s and mid-'90s, so it's been awhile and I defer to you on that. I knew about all the closeups on Rooney -- let's say his acting was way too big for the screen as opposed to stage.
Yes, in my opinion, Kathie overacted in The Foreigner and said so. It never once clicked for me until your comment that you were the director in both instances.
You have shows to do and our talking publicly isn't going to help anymore.
My reviews should be professional and not personal.
There's a fine line there, however, because actors use their entire bodies and voices and personalities.
It's like when I graded essays as a teacher: my writing feels like part of ME; my acting feels like part of ME.
We all wanna hear praise. It makes me feel good all over when I get praised. But, like everyone, I remember the criticisms. Why is that? I wanna hear those criticisms, though, take 'em for what they're worth, and improve upon them.
If it helps at all, my opening paragraph in my review of *Shak. in Hollywood* was singled out in our Wed. editorial meeting as the 2nd-worst lede in the entire paper last week.
That make anybody feel better?


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home