The characters you will meet in “Shakespeare in Hollywood”

Shakespeare in Hollywood by Ken Ludwig portrays behind the scenes of movies in the 1930s. Based on the film of A Midnight Summer’s Dream Directed by Max Reinhardt filmed in 1934, this play muses the idea that real characters from A Midnight Summer’s Dream find their way onto the movie set. This ends up with an entourage of slapstick comedy between the actors including William Hays, Jim Cagney, Dick Powell and the real Puck and Oberon.

As with many of Western Oregon University Performance, you will see many of the same talented faces. There are seven faces premiering in the Shakespeare in Hollywood production, on March 2, in particular that you may recognize from this past summer’s performance of A Midnight Summer’s Dream. These faces are: Sarah Cotter (Puck), Angeliki de Morgan (Max Reinhardt), Stephanie Kintz (Olivia Darnell), Jeff Presler (William Hays), Cati Rangel (Ensemble), A.J. Saddler (Jack Warner), Phoebe Thampsen (Daryl). These actors have a unique view of the characters and the development of how they were created because two of the characters (Puck and Oberon) are in this show, but in a completely different way. These actors made different decisions for the motivation and choices  the characters have when crafting them, this leads to new and interesting takes on these roles.

In both plays you get a clear sense of who the characters are. Having recurring characters Oberon, Puck, and the fairies shines a new light on character development. Sarah Cotter had a very special case because she was cast into the same character (Puck), but into a very different role. During an interview she described her thought process perfectly when describing the first idea she has while remaking a character name into a completely different identity, “How can I make it a living breathing character that isn’t based on something I already created.” This can be something an actor can really struggle with because you spend so much time creating a specific character.

Most of the cast members had a similar feeling to this.  Cati Rangel described this creation of characters as starting with a classic character type and making adaptations to put them in the context of their surroundings, then adding in the director’s vision.  Sometimes these adaptations are blunted such as in Phoebe Thampsen case. She portrays a gender-less character that plays out the characteristics of the primary chosen gender with complete confidence. Sometimes the difference between roles is extreme  between performances like in Stephanie Kintz’ case where she goes from a timid and shy nobody, to a beautiful, fierce, and sassy woman.

There is also another side to the character development, having the aspect of playing people that really lived, not just fictional characters. A.J. Saddler commented that his character (Jack Warner),”Couldn’t be more opposite of himself.” This is a hard process trying to adopt the qualities of a historical figure, but still keep it original. Rangel stated that while there is artistic liberty there isn’t as much as you would get with a normal character, the humor and the body language need to be right. The pressure is really on Jeff Presler who is playing William Hays an extremely prominent actor on the silver screen. Hays was conservative and rigid despite the characters he played. For some people however the depictions of their characters were only in writing, never caught on camera, which created a bit of different problem in character development.

In the end the characters are derived to portray points to the audience in a digestible manner explains Angeliki de Morgan. Even in a lighthearted comedy there can be senses of real word problems. For instance Max Rynhart, whom de Morgan plays, was a extremely profound and driven director, was also a Jew that was able to escape from Nazi Germany’s reign. In a part of the play someone tries to downplay the movement in Nazi Germany and he reacts negatively to their comments. By doing this the play is portraying a profound stand on the issue. De Morgan explains that sometimes these inserted messages get the ideas out there and help elect change.

This is only one aspect of theatre that isn’t seen by the audience, as the actors pull you into their fantasy world. Their hard work pays off when as an audience member there is nothing more you can do than sit there in awe. If you don’t want to miss this performance and all the hard work that has gone into it, you can check it out March 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee performance on March 5 at 2:00 p.m. at Rice Auditorium. Ticket prices are $14 for general admission, $8 for students with student ID and $10 for seniors. You can get your tickets by coming to the box office in person or by calling at (503) 838-8462 or emailing boxoffice@wou.edu. Hope to see you there!

A poster with the dates and title for Western Oregon University's production of "Shakespeare in Hollywood" protraying Shakespeare wearing sunglasses surrounded by palm trees
The poster for “Shakespeare in Hollywood”

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