2nd Story’s ‘I Hate Hamlet’ a sweet treat
"I Hate Hamlet" sure is a lot of fun, perhaps the best offering of the summer so far.by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
As 2nd Story Theatre’s Ed Shea says, “I Hate Hamlet,” the theater’s latest offering, is a meringue, not a meat pie. And in this case it’s a very sweet meringue, a true confection starting with a clever story and capped off with some wonderful acting from the likes of John Michael Richardson as the lovable ghost of John Barrymore.
The show is perfect summer fare, with a seance and some impressive sword fighting thrown in. True, it’s a bit fantastical, but under Mark Peckham’s lively direction you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Andy Rally, who plays a doctor on TV, has been offered the role of Hamlet in a Shakespeare in the Park production in New York. Only trouble is, he hates Shakespeare. But all that changes when he rents a funky apartment that once belonged to John Barrymore, whose ghost appears after a seance led by the real estate broker. And the legendary Mr. B cheers Andy on.
That’s the meringue part. But Andy, after some soul searching, decides to go on with the show and experiences, in a few brief seconds, the magic of theater.
It’s a simple moment in an otherwise dismal debut by Andy, when he connects with a little boy in the front row. And it says a lot about the art of acting, and the art of living, for that matter.
Still, playwright Paul Rudnick doesn’t hit you over the head with the revelation. It’s just a sweet moment in the middle of an otherwise pretty zany show, with more than a few laugh-out-loud moments.
Even though Barrymore appears as a ghost, there is nothing spooky about the show. Some people see him, interact with him, and some don’t. But he’s there to say that through all his drinking, his marriages and B movies, art is where it’s at.
And here Richardson is just a joy to watch, free of his familiar mannerisms and just a very human man of the theater.
Anther standout performance comes from Isabel O’Donnell as the ditzy real estate broker who sends a message to Barrymore by way of her dead mother.
And Charles LaFond is dazzling as Andy’s insensitive Hollywood pal, Gary. Gary has put together a pilot for Andy that promises a $3-million pay check if he’ll just give up this Hamlet nonsense. Otherwise he tells Andy he’ll be acting in Chekhov in a basement with folding chairs. And he’ll have to put the chairs away himself to make room for an AA meeting.
But his best line is perhaps his critique of Shakespeare: It’s hard to tell who’s good, unless there’s nudity.
Tom Bentley’s Andy was fine, but some how not entirely believable. His “To be or not to be” soliloquy was somewhat less than enthralling.
Erin Elliot is his 29-year-old girlfriend who just happens to be waiting for the right guy to have sex, which is driving Andy a little crazy. But even a bad performance of “Hamlet” turns her on.
Paula Faber has a smallish role as Andy’s agent, who once had a fling with Barrymore and wants one more encounter with him, before he retreats back into the ether after Andy’s debut.
So it’s not a meat pie, but “I Hate Hamlet” sure is a lot of fun, perhaps the best offering of the summer so far.