I Hate Hamlet: Pleasant and Likely to Please
Also see Bob's review of Curtains
The setting is the stately top floor apartment of an old Washington Square brownstone which was once home to the legendary American Shakespearean actor and profligate John Barrymore. (Barrymore played Richard III and Hamlet on Broadway between 1920 and 1923.) The apartment's new tenant is Andrew Rally, a lightweight, popular young television star whose "doctor" series has been cancelled. Andrew has agreed to play Hamlet in a New York Shakespeare in the Park production in order to validate himself as an actor. An Angelino, Andrew dislikes the Gothic trappings of his new apartment, which was selected for him by his local real estate agent, Felicia Dantine. However, his girlfriend Deirdre McDavey loves it, so Andrew agrees to stay. Deirdre is his live-in girlfriend, but have no fear, the hot, young TV star's actress girlfriend is a virgin who sleeps in her own bedroom and is not yet ready to unlock her jewel box. It's 1991! What in the world was Rudnick thinking?
Also on hand is Rally's elderly agent, Lillian Troy, who boasts that many years earlier she had a tryst with Barrymore in this very apartment. Felicia, a bit of a kook who dabbles in the dark arts and claims that she communicates with her late mother, decides to conjure up Barrymore to verify Lillian's claim. During Felicia's sťance, when Andrew is told to ask Barrymore for advice on portraying Hamlet, he blurts out, "I hate Hamlet," arousing the enraged Barrymore spirit. The reincarnated actor appears to Andrew in full Hamlet regalia, and proceeds to mentor the reluctant youth with increasing enthusiasm through the six week rehearsal period leading to the opening night of Hamlet.
While it seems Rudnick's intention is to inspire the souls of the viewer with a Valentine to Barrymore, Shakespeare, and the glory of New York and its theatre and actors, there is no such resonance here. The persona of Andrew never transcends that of the shallow and callow young man to whom we are introduced in this play's first scene. Andrew Rein never convincingly makes any connection with Rick Delaney's Barrymore. This is never more true than in the final scene when Barrymore imparts a final lesson which is intended to, but fails to, convey that the ghost of Barrymore's efforts to inculcate Andrew with the soul of a Shakespearean have succeeded. Rein also fails to convince us that he is a hot young actor.
Rick Delaney is an impeccably witty and convincing spirit of Barrymore. His smooth, strong, mellifluous tones, resounding readings of Shakespeare's lines, and funny/sad conjuring of Barrymore strongly reverberate, even in the context of a missing Andre Rally. Delaney is a seasoned pro, and his performance is the best reason to attend this production.
Kathleen Huber (Lillian), Madeline Orton (Deirdre) and Katrina Ferguson (Felicia) give solid performances. Gary Martins is especially good in creating a personality for Andrew's strictly dollar-oriented Hollywood agent, Gary Peter Lefkowitz, while landing an unending series of gag lines.
Director Eric Hafen has directed with dexterity and generally elicited solid performances. However, Hafen also has to be faulted for the production's shortcomings. Bill Motyka's large and detailed scenic design for the Barrymore apartment conveys a strong sense of verisimilitude.
Although I neither loved nor hated I Hate Hamlet, it is the kind of cute and cozy comedy which most appeals to Bickford Theatre audiences.
I Hate Hamlet continues performances (Evenings Thursday 7:30 pm/ Friday and Saturday 8 pm; Matinees Thursday and Sunday 2 pm) through May 22, 2011, at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown, New Jersey 07960, Box Office: 973-971-3706; online: www.bickfordtheatre.org.
I Hate Hamlet by Paul Rudnick; directed by Eric Hafen