note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark
Set Design by Ron Dion
Lighting Design by Rick Shamel
Costume Design by Amy DeMarco
Sound Design by Bob Pascucci
Stage Combat Instructor L. Stacy Eddy
Stage Manager Sarah Powell
Felicia Dantine.........................Frances Vella
Andrew Rally...........Angelo Athanasopoulos
Deirdre McDavey.....................Ann Medaille
Lillian Troy.........................Mary Fitzpatrick
John Barrymore....................R. Glen Michell
Gary Peter Lefkowitz..................Bob Karish
Paul Rudnick's "I Hate Hamlet" is a succinct situation-comedy for grown-ups. The ghost of an actor famous for both his drunken caprices and his memorable portrayal of Hamlet ---an actor famous for squandering his stage talent on irrelevant movie turns --- returns (in costume!) to coach a television performer attempting the English stage's greatest role. That sounds like a good idea for a quick sketch on the old Carol Burnett show, but it's much better than that. And Director B. J. Williams and the Arlington Friends of The Drama have found all the scintillating laugh-lines and the quietly sincere moments as well that make this play sing.
One of the delights here is the devil's advocate figure --- a t-v producer-director who considers stage-acting in general and Shakespeare in particular as negative career-moves, as "Algebra on stage". His swift, breezy, irreverent attacks are peppered with quips and barbs that Bob Karish pounces upon with unflagging gusto. Never merely sitting but crawling over and into furniture, he is a smiling philistine deal-maker who lights up the stage with sparkling wit.
Of course, it's not impossible for television personalities to triumph in Shakespeare --- remember the recent success of Kelcy Grammer as "Macbeth"? [Insert wry emoticon of your choice here!] As played by Angelo Athanasopoulos, the actor is young, unsure he even wants to try such a role, and only grudgingly persuaded that all the pretense and the stage-fright and the threat of failure are really worth losing a six-figure starring role in a series.
What changes his mind is John Barrymore --- a rather substantial ghost who swills down whiskey as effortlessly as he forces his young pupil to learn swordsmanship in self-defense. R. Glen Michell doesn't look a bit like that immortal actor with a legendary profile --- but he acts like him. And what a joy it is to hear an experienced performer stand centerstage and ring the rafters with his unaided voice.
Rudnick's women, in contrast to these three vibrantly lively intellectual prize-fighters, seem manufactured. Frances Vella injects life into the real-estate broker who, unfortunately, must carry the scene-setting background speeches early in the first act with little but a New York accent and a penchant for spiritualism. Mary Fitzpatrick is the actor's chain-smoking but encouraging agent who actually remembers a night's fling with Barrymore when he actually lived in this mustily decorated apartment. And Ann Medaille is his ageing virgin fiancee, who melts into the arms of Hamlet to add a cherry to the comic confection.
L. Stacy Eddy taught stage combat, but these contentious Hamlets take to their bouts as though they had been fencing all their lives. Ron Dion has delivered a fluid set, Evelyn Corsini's props have as many surprises as Rick Shamel's light-plot, and Costumer Amy DeMarco found two for Hamlet --- flamboyantly romantic for Barrymore, somewhat more subdued for a Shakespeare in The Park production that happens while everyone is milling about in the intermission.
Everyone connected with this show has added a bit of brightness to a glittering whole. But the unflagging talent and attention to detail of Director B. J. Williams are probably what made certain that whole could take full advantage of all those glittering details.