Brave Actors Buoy Bland Script

Andrew Rally, a former TV star, accepts the most arduous role in theatre when he is offered the role of Hamlet in a Shakespeare in the Park Production in Manhattan.  The trouble is that he is intimidated by the role and has no faith in himself as a stage actor.  Luckily, Andrew lives in the apartment once owned by legendary Hamlet performer, John Barrymore, whose ghost arrives to help mentor him in the role in the comedy I Hate Hamlet opening tomorrow at the Omaha Playhouse.

Paul Rudnick’s idea had a tremendous amount of potential.  Regrettably, his script fails to make any use of that potential.  It is incredibly slow, never really gets anywhere, and is frightfully dull.  Occasionally a good one liner pops up, but this is a script that really forces a director and cast to work to get anything out of it.  Guest director, Ablan Roblin, and his troupe of artists deserve a standing ovation for milking the few precious drops of comedy out of this yawner.  Roblin especially deserves praise as he made the most out of this script by cutting as brisk a pace as possible and coaching some solid performances out of his cast.

Ben Beck gives one of the most honest performances of his career as Andrew Rally.  With a nice, simple straightforward delivery, Beck imbues Rally with warmth, honesty, and sincerity.  This is especially impressive as Rally actually has some unlikable qualities.  He got into acting solely for the fame and money and not for its artistry.  Beck’s Rally is also a bit obsessed with having sex with his virgin girlfriend, Deidre, but demonstrates his basic decency as he genuinely wants to marry her and refuses to cheat on her despite his dislike for the chaste lifestyle.  Beck also does some nice work in showing the fears and insecurities of Rally as he does not believe himself to be a good actor.  He sees himself as just a pretty face.  But in playing up that self-doubt, Beck is able to make Rally’s final choice of a career on stage vs a return to TV very believable.

Kevin Barratt’s work as John Barrymore is quite exceptional.  He does a marvelous job playing up Barrymore’s drinking, theatricality, and womanizing, but it is always so natural and real.  Especially impressive was Barratt’s delivery of a monologue in Act II where Barrymore laments escaping from the stage to sell himself out to Hollywood and the sad moment when he realized he was no longer capable of acting.  It was a heartbreaking moment and the most beautiful of the show.

Suzanne Withem delights as Deirdre McDavey, Andrew’s innocent girlfriend.  Ms Withem was amazing as her Deirdre had a heart nearly as pure as a crystal.  Ms Withem’s Deirdre is an old soul trapped in a young woman.  She has a love for the classics and dreams of saving herself for her knight in shining armor.  For all of her decency, Ms Withem was also able to slip a tiny bit of the temptress into her character as she does wonder what sex with the wrong man would be like and is ready to pounce on Andrew after his failure on opening night gets her engine running.  Ms Withem does need to be certain to hold for laughs as I lost bits of her dialogue when she would speak during the audience’s merriment.

Dave Wingert brings quite a bit of energy to the role of Gary Peter Lefkowitz.  As Andrew’s TV director friend, Lefkowitz schemes to get Andrew away from the stage and back into television.  Wingert portrays Lefkowitz with a polite snideness as he completely disdains theatre since he doesn’t understand it and loves television as one doesn’t really need to think while watching it and likes the fact that tons of money can be made from the most banal pap.  I especially liked the opportunistic nature Wingert gave Lefkowitz, particularly when he uses Andrew’s determination to play Hamlet to negotiate a better deal for the TV series he is trying to sell.

Kim Jubenville and Julie Fitzgerald Ryan shine in smaller roles.  Ms Jubenville plays Andrew’s agent, Lillian Troy.  Ms Jubenville gets everything she can out of this role and demonstrated some remarkable versatility as she transitioned from the slapstick comedy of hacking up her lungs due to a heavy smoking habit to a sweetly dramatic moment with Barrymore, whom she can see, as they rekindle an affair they had when Barrymore was alive.

Ms Fitzgerald Ryan was quite entertaining as Felicia Dantine, Andrew’s real estate broker and psychic.  Her New Yorker accent is spot on and her eccentricities are wonderful as she can literally smell supernatural activity, yet somehow cannot sense or see Barrymore.

Jim Othuse’s set is of tremendous quality and perfectly duplicates the Jacobean furnishings of Barrymore’s apartment and his lighting design is quite ingenious with its use of candlelight and lightning.

The hard work, dedication, and talent of the actors and directors go a long way in overpowering the weaknesses of the script and I believe I Hate Hamlet will provide some lighthearted enjoyment to its audiences.

I Hate Hamlet runs from April 17-May 10 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Tickets prices are $36 for adults and $22 for students.  Tickets can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com or call 402-553-0800.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cast Street in Omaha, NE.  The show does contain a little strong language and some adult situations.  Parental discretion is advised.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Day 1: Unwelcome Reunions

Have you ever had one of those days when you wake up with the feeling of impending doom?

I had a day like that yesterday.  When I woke up in the morning, I would almost swear that the Sword of Damocles was hanging over my head.

I didn’t know why I felt this way.  It was a pleasant day, after all.  The sun was shining.  The birds were chirping.  And the clouds were looking especially fluffy.

Maybe it was just nerves.  I was getting ready to fly down to Phoenix, AZ for a meeting with a representative from the SyFy Network to discuss optioning my story, Giraffealanche, for their latest SyFy Original Movie.  Now, now, I know what you’re thinking.  “Chris, your writing is so clever, sharp, and witty,” says you.  “Why would you waste your great talent writing such schlock?”  To which I reply, “Because the money is really good.”

I shook off this feeling of dread as best as I could and prepared for my journey.  I arrived at the airport, checked my luggage, and flew through security.  Armed with my new Kindle Paperwhite, I sat down at my gate and read the latest Adrian Monk mystery while I slowly sipped a Dr. Pepper.  Still the heebie jeebies remained within me.

My flight was slightly delayed, but that was no cause for concern as my meeting was scheduled for the following day.  Normally, I prefer window seats when I fly, but, this time, I took a middle seat right in the front of plane.  For some reason, I just felt that I needed to get off of that plane as soon as possible.

It was the smoothest flight I’d been on in years.  There was nary a trace of turbulence to disturb me as I read my novel cover to cover.  Upon landing, I grabbed my laptop and bolted out of the plane.  As I walked down the hall, I remembered a very similar walk I had taken roughly six months prior.  Before my mind could seize the memory, I became aware of a powerful, fetid stench that filled my nostrils.  Then all went black!

The next thing I remember was an airport employee waving some smelling salts under my nose to revive me.

“Hey, pal, are you OK?” asked the employee.

“Yeah, I think so.  What happened?” I asked.

“You passed out.”

“I remember smelling some foul odor,” I said.

“Oh!  That’s probably from our local attraction,” said the employee.

“A skunk farm?” I queried.

“Nah,” said the employee with a chuckle.  “I’ll show you.”

The employee led me down the hall and that chill down my spine began to grow sharper and colder.  I now had a hunch of what I was about to see, though it defied belief.  Just past security, I saw a crowd of people around two men and I wanted to weep.

It was Arizona Mat and Tall Square.

For those of you who are new visitors to my blog, I refer you to the archive section under the series entitled “The Arizona Chronicles” in which an odd set of circumstances thrust me into meeting Arizona Mat, a so called explorer, and Tall Square, his goofy sidekick.

They were exactly as I had left them back then.  Each still had the other’s hand locked in a death grip of a handshake.  They had lost a considerable amount of weight and were using their free hand to hold up their pants.  Feeding tubes had been inserted in their noses and IVs pumped water into their bodies. You could almost see the B.O. wafting from their bodies.  The crowd was taking bets as to which man would finally yield and break the handshake.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I said.

“Nope,” said the employee.  “These guys have been doing this for six months now.  It’s been really good for business for the stores around here, if somewhat stinky.”

Now, I suppose I could have slipped quietly away, checked into a nice hotel, and avoided what was to come.  But I made my first mistake.  I said hello.

“Uh, hi, guys,” I said.

Tall Square looked at me, then let go of Arizona Mat’s hand to wave at me.  Time seemed to stop.

A stunned silence fell over the crowd.  Finally the duel had ended.  A maniacal light gleamed in Arizona Mat’s eyes.  A huge smile split his lips.

“You lose!!  You lose!!” crowed Arizona Mat.  “I’m the winner!  You’re the loser!  Winner!  Loser!!  Loser!!  Winner!!  I am such a winner!!  You are such a loser!!  I am such a winner!!  You are such a loser!!”

Arizona Mat had broken into a conga dance, shaking his butt in Tall Square’s face.  I could tell Tall Square was about to explode and the following seemed to occur in slow motion.

Tall Square cocked back his fist for a mighty punch and had just begun the follow through when a people mover ran into him from behind.  I watched in horror as the upper half of his body bent backwards in a 90 degree angle.  His body flipped up and over the people mover, sailing through the air.  I covered my eyes as I braced myself for the sickening crack of his body hitting the ground.  Instead, I heard a thump.

I peeked through my fingers and saw that Tall Square’s body had somehow landed on a luggage mover going down the opposite direction.  I turned to look at Arizona Mat who had fallen to the ground due to weakness, yet he still had that cheesy grin on his face and he was pumping his arms up, chanting, “Winner!  Winner!  Winner!”

I pursued the luggage mover, but the unusually high level of people in the airport slowed me down and I was unable to catch up with it.  I looked through the window and watched as Tall Square was blithely loaded with the luggage onto a plane bound for Nome, AK.  Poor Tall Square.

I returned to Arizona Mat, still pumping his arms on the ground.  I could have walked away at this point, but then I made my second mistake.  I decided to do my Christian duty and help.

I loaded Arizona Mat onto a wheelchair, picked up my suitcase, and hailed a cab.  Once we had gotten to Arizona Mat’s home, I tucked the poor sot into bed and decided to head for a hotel and then I made my third mistake.  I got cheap.

I realized that I could stay here for free and save myself on a hotel bill.  So I sent the cab away and made myself at home in the guest room.  I was hungry so I walked down the street to the Flaming Kabob when I enjoyed some delicious hummus, chicken lemon rice soup, and chicken gallaya.  Bringing the leftovers with me for lunch the next day, I proceeded to jump into Arizona Mat’s pool which was much more enjoyable now as opposed to the icy plunge he forced me to take six months earlier.

As I swam, I realized I was probably in for another series of hijinks and misadventures, but I heaved a mighty sigh and decided I would try to make the best of things.

To be continued. . .