Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Fred's recent review of Romeo and Juliet
Playhouse on Park is fortunate to have a game and talented cast on hand, with each actor making his or her own mark in the production. Julia Hochner is a riot as real estate agent Felicia, who helps Andrew acquire John Barrymore's apartment, and she also serves as a medium of sorts, trying to make contact with the great beyond. Also bringing a lot of humor to the show is a terrific David Lanson as Gary, who dangles a television series offer in front of Andrew, if he will only agree to give up Hamlet. As Lillian, Andrew's agent, Ruth Neaveill has some lovely moments, especially a sensual second act encounter with Barrymore. Finally, there is the very funny Susan Slotoroff as slightly crazed Deirdre, Andrew's Shakespeare-loving girlfriend.
Still, the two leading men are the ones who make the strongest impression. The good-looking Dan Whelton makes Andrew a combination of uncertainty and ambition, and he proves to be the perfect hero in the show. And, resembling a combination of Kevin Kline and Kyle MacLachlan, Ezra Barnes fully embodies this extravagant, larger-than-life character and is entirely believable in the role. Just to watch him, as Barrymore, demonstrate how to give a proper onstage bow is almost a show in itself. There are also some marvelous fencing scenes between Dan Whelton and Ezra Barnes (fight choreographer is Greg Webster). These two actors make a wonderful team.
As is customary with shows at Playhouse on Park, the physical production is entirely handsome and crisply designed. The scenic design by Emily Nichols of Barrymore's apartment is impressive and completely appropriate, and Soule Golden should earn a lot of praise for providing the perfect costumes for all the actors, especially the one designed to make Ezra Barnes look like the epitome of a matinee idol. The lighting design by Marcus Abbott works extremely well and director Vince Tycer deserves kudos for shaping this production and for keeping the show moving at a good clip, as well as eliciting all the laughs in Paul Rudnick's script.
Still, beyond the humor that I Hate Hamlet has in spades, there is a good deal of heart, as well. Indeed, I Hate Hamlet is so satisfying because it goes in unexpected directions (especially in the second act) and truly celebrates the power of live theatre. The image one comes away with is the bond that Andrew and John Barrymore establish so beautifully and the highly effective performances of Dan Whelton and Ezra Barnes.
I Hate Hamlet continues performances at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through March 13, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call the box office at 860-523-5900.