In “I Hate Hamlet,” John Barrymore’s Ghost Haunts a TV Actor Reluctantly Playing the Dithering Dane
The North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre will present a community-theater production of American playwright and screenwriter Paul Rudnick’s hilarious 1991 backstage comedy, I Hate Hamlet, on Oct. 19-21 and 26-28 and Nov. 2-4 in NRACT’s intimate black-box theater in Greystone Village Shopping Center.
I Hate Hamlet had Broadway audiences rolling in the aisles during its short but glorious run of 88 performances from April 8 to June 22, 1991. (Just think of a high-strung Los Angeles and New York actor in tights, visited by the ghost of legendary Hamlet and prominent American Shakespearean actor John Barrymore (1882-1942), while the cast struggles through rehearsals for a Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of Elizabethan dramatist William Shakespeare’s epic tragedy — and longest play — about a dithering Danish prince who cuts a wide bloody swath through the royal court before he, finally, avenges his father’s murder.)
“I read this play back in the 1990s when I had first began using a monologue from it for auditions,” recalls NRACT guest director Tanner Lagasca. “Throughout the years, it would keep popping up; but I never had the opportunity to work on it.”
When the curtain rises on I Hate Hamlet, Dramatists Play Service, Inc. reports:
“Andrew Rally [played for NRACT by Chris Bynum] seems to have it all: celebrity and acclaim from his starring role in a hit television series; a rich, beautiful girlfriend [Sarah Stimpson as Deirdre McDavey]; a glamorous, devoted agent [Sheila Outhwaite as Lillian Troy]; the perfect New York apartment; and the chance to play Hamlet in Central Park. There are, however, a couple of glitches in paradise. Andrew’s series has been canceled, his girlfriend is clinging to her virginity with unyielding conviction, and he has no desire to play Hamlet.
“When Andrew’s agent visits him, she reminisces about her brief romance with John Barrymore [Chris Brown] many years ago, in Andrew’s apartment. This prompts a séance [led by Sandra Shelton as free-spirited psychic and broker Felicia Dantine] to summon [Barrymore's] ghost. From the moment Barrymore returns, dressed in high Shakespearean garb, Andrew’s life is no longer his own.
“Barrymore, fortified by champagne and ego, presses Andrew to accept the part [of Hamlet] and fulfill his actor’s destiny. The action becomes more hilarious with the entrance of Andrew’s deal-making friend from LA [Brian Lord as Gary Peter Lefkowitz], spouting the laid-back hype of the Coast and offering Andrew a fabulous new TV deal worth millions of dollars. The laughs are nonstop as Andrew wrestles with his conscience, Barrymore, his sword, and the fact that he fails as Hamlet in Central Park.”
Director Tanner Lagasca notes, “The show is very funny and entertaining.” But, he cautions NRACT patrons, “There are a few off-colored words and some sexual situations and references.”
In addition to director Tanner Lagasca, who doubles as set and lighting designer I Hate Hamlet, the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre creative team for the show includes producer Beth Brody, fight choreographer Jason Bailey, technical director Todd Houseknecht, costume designer Sheila Outhwaite, sound designer John Maruca, and properties manager and stage manager Patrick Raulet.
Tanner Lagasca notes, “The set has one door and three archways, with stairs leading to the ‘second floor’ and ‘roof.’ We have a fireplace and mantle and a few shelves to give it an overall older feel to the place. There are stairs that lead to the ‘balcony’ on a stage extension. The colors are dark, which lends to the rustic or medieval look that we were trying to achieve.”
He adds, “The lighting is very natural, using mostly amber colors with variations in level to create candlelight, ghostly happenings, and romance[; and the] costumes are relatively contemporary, except for the Hamlet costumes, which are complete with black tunics with trim and tights.”
Tanner Lagasca claims, “One of the biggest challenges we faced [in staging I Hate Hamlet] was taking the small stage of NRACT and turning it into a huge loft with a balcony. We had to extend the stage out and put the walls at angles to create a huge space.
“It was also a challenge to create the ‘special effects’ for the mystical happenings,” reveals Lagasca. “But thanks to lighting and misdirection, we were able to accomplish this task.”
Lagasca says, “Another major challenge was keeping the comedy real and not over the top. The comedy comes from the personalities of the characters; but if they appear as caricatures, then the humor is lost. Lastly, because NRACT is a nonprofit organization and relies heavily on volunteers, many people in the production took on two or three production roles.”
The Village Voice called the original Broadway production of I Hate Hamlet “fast-mouthed and funny” and claimed, “[I Hate Hamlet] has the old-fashioned Broadway virtues of brightness without pretensions and sentimentality without morals.” Newsday said the show was “full of fresh one-liners.” And The New York Times said this offbeat comedy by the author of Jeffrey (1995), Addams Family Values (1993) and In & Out (1997) was “unapologetically silly and at times hilarious [and] affectionately amusing about the theatre.”
The North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents I HATE HAMLET at 8 p.m. Oct. 19 and 20, 3 p.m. Oct. 21, 8 p.m. Oct. 26 and 27, 3 p.m. Oct. 28, 8 p.m. Nov. 2 and 3, and 3 p.m. Nov. 4 at NRACT, in the Greystone Village Shopping Center, 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615.
TICKETS: $15 ($12 students and seniors 62+), except $10-per-person Sunday matinees.
I Hate Hamlet (background): http://dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=912 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Hate_Hamlet (Wikipedia).
I Hate Hamlet (script): http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Paul Rudnick: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Rudnick (Wikipedia).
Tanner Lagasca: http://www.tannerlagasca.com/ (official website)
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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