Theatre Mirror Reviews - "I Hate Hamlet"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark

"I Hate Hamlet"

by Paul Rudnick
Directed by Brian Triber
Fight Master Ted Eaton

Lights Designed by Sean Guarino
Set Design by Ubiquity Stage
Stage Manager Sarah Hensley

Felicia Dantine...................Rita Perizzi
Andrew Raly.........................Louis See
Deirdre McDavey..............Penny Frank
Lillian Troy......................Candace Clift
John Barrymore............Richard Girardi
Gary Peter Lefkowitz..........Chris Cook

It's the ghost of Kelsey Grammer's disastrous bout last year with The Scottish Play that haunts "I Hate Hamlet" --- even more than that of John Barrymore in tights. In Paul Rudnick's witty play a successful t-v actor "temporarily between engagements" gets a chance to play the melancholy Dane at Joe Papp's Playhouse in The Park, and ends up getting coached by the shade of America's last major thespian to triumph in the part. This Ubiquity Stage production is wildly uneven, but solid where it counts most, and fight master Ted Eaton's long comic fencing sequence ending act one is a succulent cherry on top.

The play presumes that anyone essaying the greatest role in all English literature always channels some previous triumphant player of it, and Andrew Rally (played by Louis See) just happens to have rented Barrymore's old New York digs. A whole preamble involving a real estate broker moonlighting as a medium (Rita Perizzi) is almost irrelevant and poorly played; but once Richard Girardi's Barrymore strides through the stage-smoke to drink, to quip, to admit his failures as an actor and a man but to defend the art of acting Shakespeare, the play begins to bite. He and See fence as much with words as foils, and director Brian Triber sees to it that the crisp wit and satire never upstage a bedrock respect for stage acting.

Penny Frank plays the actor's stage-struck professional-virgin girlfriend who reads for Ophelia but is cast only as a waiting-maid with no lines, and Candace Clift is an old agent-with-a-heart-of-gold who remembers a one-nighter with Barrymore. Then there's the Mephistopheles character --- Chris Cook as a dealing Hollywood media-director convinced that acting live on a stage is a one-way ticket to obscurity and poverty. Each of these side-plots is amusing, but the by-play between tall, gaunt, haughty Girardi in black and stocky, nervous See in white --- and both admitting terrifying stage-fright --- is the center of the action. It ain't "Hamlet" --- but it's fun.


"I Hate Hamlet" (till 27 January)
Tower Auditorium, Massachusetts College of Art, 621 Buntington Avenue, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide