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Shakespeare, Hollywood collide in comedy at Adobe

Jennifer Benoit (Olivia), Tim Crofton (King Oberon), Arthur Alpert (Max Reinhardt), Amy Cundall (Puck) and Elizabeth Olton (Lydia) star in “Shakespeare in Hollywood.” (Courtesy of Carolyn Hogan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In 1935, Max Reinhardt directed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Playwright Ken Ludwig took the anarchy of that set and turned it into the farcical “Shakespeare in Hollywood,” opening at the Adobe Theater on Friday, July 12. The show runs through Aug. 4.

World-famous stage director Reinhardt, fresh off a successful run of the play at the Hollywood Bowl, envisions a film version. Warner Brothers Studio head Jack Warner stands in his way, unconvinced that Shakespeare means box office. Reinhardt plows ahead anyway.

Director Lewis Hauser knows the dirt on the original production. He interviewed the actress Jean Muir, who played Helena, before she died.

“Reinhardt had the perfect vision for this show,” Hauser said. “Reinhardt saw the humor; he saw the fantasy. He wanted to do something Shakespeare would like.”

Instead, he battled the stars, the censors and, especially, Warner.

“The fights he had with Jack Warner were legendary,” Hauser said. “You could hear screaming all over the Warner Brothers lot.”

The Austrian-born director spoke no English at the time of the film’s production. He gave orders to the actors and crew in German with a translator. Nazi Germany banned the film because of the Jewish backgrounds of both Reinhardt and composer Felix Mendelssohn. Still, Reinhardt managed to subliminally work in Hitler’s terrorist attacks on his country.

The shooting schedule had to be rearranged after Mickey Rooney broke his leg skiing. According to Rooney’s memoirs, Warner was furious and threatened to kill him and break his other leg. The movie also marked the film debut of Olivia de Havilland.

Ludwig works in the chaos as well as the fantasy through the magical appearance of the fairies King Oberon and Puck. The two get caught up in loopy love triangles and industry power struggles with the help of a feisty flower, blond bombshells, movie moguls and arrogant “asses.”

“It’s Shakespeare, but it’s also a great screwball comedy,” Hauser said. “The comedy stems from stuff that really happened.

“It’s a tribute to the golden days in Hollywood and the insanity that went with it.”

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