I LOVE Hamlet
Good writing, fabulous performances and a million reasons to laugh make “I Hate Hamlet” the show you will love.By Kathie Raleigh, Woonsocket Call
In Paul Rudnick’s play “I Hate Hamlet,” character Gary Peter Lefkowitz, a writer-director-producer of television shows, disdainfully describes performances of Shakespeare as “algebra on stage.” But Shakespeare wins out in this laugh-strewn play now in hilarious production at 2nd Story Theatre.
The playwright, a frequent contributor of humor columns to “The New Yorker” magazine, puts the funny words in the mouths of his characters, but the delivery makes all the difference, and 2nd Story’s cast couldn’t be better.
From John Michael Richardson as the ghost of John Barrymore to Tom Bentley as his angst-ridden protégé, the actors make good lines even better with their timing and technique. Director Mark Peckham orchestrates the escalating humor and in the midst of it still comes up with some honestly sentimental moments, delivering a production that’s perfect summer entertainment.
In this unlikely but entertaining story, Bentley plays Andrew Rally, the erstwhile star and chief commercial huckster for television’s “L.A. Medical.” But the series has been cancelled and Rally’s career has stalled. To fill the gap, his agent, arranged an audition to play Hamlet in a Shakespeare in the Park production, so Rally has left sunny California for a gothic apartment in New York, fatefully once inhabited by the late Barrymore.
Rally, who claims to “hate ‘Hamlet,’” has misgivings about the role, secretly believing that he got the part because of his television fame, not his talent. But then Barrymore’s ghost appears to coach him, encourage him, and convince him of the rewards of live theater. While there is a happy ending, it might not be the one you expect.
Richardson is one of the most memorable ghosts you’ll ever see, whether over playing his part, as Barrymore was known to do, or delivering a Shakespearean monologue so fervently it earned a round of applause from the opening night audience. His ghost is overblown – his demonstration of how to take a bow is worth the price of a ticket — but occasionally self-effacing and even contrite when he looks at missteps in his career. He’s hilarious but human, for a ghost, that is.
Bentley holds his own as both the straight man and as a comic, getting laughs from tossed-off lines like his deadpan description of how having a television hit in Hollywood reminds him of his Bar Mitzvah: everyone smiling and handing him a check.
Swirling around are quirky characters to complicate Rally’s life. His fiancée, Deirdre, played humorously by Erin Elliott, is all wide-eyed, star-struck and adamant that she won’t have sex until she’s sure she’s got the right man, which makes Rally crazy.
Isabelle O’Donnell is a hoot as the ditzy Felicia Dantine, the real estate agent who knows about Barrymore but who doesn’t have a clue about Shakespeare, while Paula Faber as Rally’s agent, Lillian Troy, handles sardonic humor and then touching wistfulness when recalling her own connection with the once-great actor.
Charles Lafond, however, nearly steals the show as Lefkowitz, the hyphenated, hyper-active, opinionated Californian who wants Rally to return to television. He’s given to pithy quips about the differences between “art” and “show business,” saying “You don’t do art. You buy it.”
Costume designer Ron Cesario does his own share of show stealing with character-driven clothing, from Lefkowitz’s white suit and floral-print shirt and Barrymore’s Shakespearean tunic and tights, to a stunning gown for Faber.
Good writing, fabulous performances and a million reasons to laugh make “I Hate Hamlet” the show you will love.