Like a soldier to the stage
Hamlet is alive and well and running amok in Warren.by Dave Christner, Newport Mercury
Shakespeare’s storied Prince of Denmark Hamlet has arguably died more deaths than any other character in the history of theater. And few, if any, have done it better than John Barrymore, whose quintessential Hamlet set the standard for all who dared to follow.
Hamlet hasn’t died so many deaths because people hate him, but rather because they love the forlorn prince of Shakespeare’s most rotten state. What better way to honor the old boy than to bring him and Barrymore back to life through the magic of live theater. That’s just what 2nd Story Theatre does in its ostentatious production of Paul Rudnick’s farce “I Hate Hamlet,” performed in rep with Charles Busch’s “Die, Mommie, Die.”
Under the steady directorial hand of Mark Peckham, John Barrymore and his Hamlet are resurrected through an amazing performance by John Michael Richardson who paces along a path from passion to pity as delicately as a butterfly fluttering from flower to flower in an English garden. Whether ruing his faults or wooing the chaste and adoring Deirdre McDavey played by Erin Elliott, Richardson is in top form.
Always at least one step ahead of Andrew Rally (Tom Bentley), Deirdre’s sexually frustrated, unfulfilled television actor and fiancé, Richardson’s Barrymore cannot return to the “other side” until Andrew agrees to appear as the doomed prince in Shakespeare in the Park’s production of “Hamlet” under the stars. Richardson and Bentley play off each other like a couple of old pros, wrenching every ounce of heart and soul out of their respective characters. The two cross paths when Andrew rents Barrymore’s former New York apartment for the summer while he’s between jobs in Los Angeles. His vehicle to stardom, a medical drama, was pulled by the network like a rotten tooth, so he’s contemplating a different path to stardom — this one through the legitimate theater. However, as the title of the play implies: He hates Hamlet.
Realtor Felicia Dantine (Isabel O’Donnell), who is also a part-time medium, conjures up Barrymore from wherever to help Andrew get over his loathing and fear of Shakespeare, particularly the role of Hamlet. Add to this storyline that Andrew’s agent, Lillian Troy (Paula Faber) was seduced by Barrymore years earlier in this very apartment and the laughs pile up faster than trash on the NYC streets during a garbage strike. But Rudnick is not done, no not by a long shot. When writer-producer-director Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Charles Lafond) appears to pitch a new show for Andrew, all bets are off. Lafond’s flamboyant Lefkowitz cuts a dashing, if not daunting, figure as he pitches shows LA style, completely oblivious to the idea that acting and writing are both forms of art. Along with Faber and O’Donnell, he is perfectly cast.
O’Donnell as a Manhattan Realtor is as much a pitch woman as Lafond is a pitchman; she is all about the sale, forcing the Barrymore former digs on the reluctant Andrew while admitting almost proudly that she knows nothing of Shakespeare or the arts. Faber’s portrayal of Troy on the other hand is very conscious of art; she thinks for Andrew to play Hamlet pro bono in the park would make him a more marketable commodity back in LA. And the elusive Deirdre promises to give herself to him fully if he makes her dreams of Hamlet a reality.
All three women are dressed to the nines in costumes by Ron Cesario that beautifully depict their underlying charter and accentuate their physical attributes. Faber is stunning in a silver gown when she is once again seduced by the bawdy Barrymore; Elliott is no less enchanting in a white nightgown when Barrymore introduces her into the ways of the world, and O’Donnell’s glitzy apparel speaks volumes about her lifestyle. Richardson and Bentley in tights are not a sight for the faint-hearted as they cross swords and exchange witty barbs on Trevor Elliott’s magnificent rendition of the old Barrymore lodging with a view of the New York skyline out an upstage window.
2nd Story’s hilarious production of “I Hate Hamlet” is a rumble in the jungle of the theater arts that fills the night air with enough raucous laughter to silence any distant drums of discontent, proving Hamlet is alive and well and running amok in Warren.