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.