Review: I Hate Hamlet by Georgetown Palace Theatre
by Michael Meigs

You don't have to hate Shakespeare's Hamlet in order to enjoy this lighthearted romp, but it does help to have an appreciation for ghosts.  We're not talking about the grim visaged former king of Shakespeare's imagined Denmark, but about the much friendlier shade of the great tragedian John Barrymore. Once he appears after the obligatory set-up scenes of the television actor and his girlfriend moving into an ancient and remarkable old apartment in New York City, Kyle Evans gives us a Barrymore as agreeable as Caspar the Friendly Ghost and a good deal more willing to provide thespian advice while swigging directly from a bottle of champagne.


Playwright Rudnick is quoted in the program relating that he once answered an classified ad in the New York Times real estate section advertising a "medieval duplex," quarters that turned out to have been renovated and inhabited by John Barrymore in 1917. Wikipedia asserts -- perhaps erroneously -- that the playwright was living there when he wrote this piece in 1991. As usual, the designers and builders at the Palace do a fine job of creating the setting, a towering set drab and draped in sheets for the first act, revealed after the intermission to have been artfully recreated as Barrymore's "Alchemist's Corner."


Ismael Soto III plays Andrew Rally, a newly unemployed celebrity television actor who has returned from Hollywood to New York in search of serious work. The folks down at Shakespeare in the Park were delighted to offer him the role of the melancholy Dane, but Andrew doesn't rally to the idea. There's too much on his mind just now. For the past five months he has been steadily dating this adamantly chaste girlfriend, Deirdre; his agent the ageing Teutonic former artiste has gotten him nothing but this gig in Central Park, where they approved the assignment without even paying attention to his audition piece; his bouncing buddy the Hollywood writer-promoter is shopping around a ridiculous new concept for a television series that promises big bucks; and then there's this medieval duplex he accepted, sight unseen, from the cheerfully garrulous woman real estate agent.


And then add to all that this alarmingly healthy dead guy who insists that he can't get out of the apartment until Andrew establishes himself as the inheritor of the Hamlet tradition.


Director David Sray keeps his cast hopping and the gags popping. Soto as Andrew Rally and Evans as the late Barrymore are on either end of the psychological see-saw. In the first act Barrymore is swaggering, expostulating, pressuring, boasting and persuading in order to get Rally to accept the role; in the second, he becomes more of a coach, guiding the TV-lite actor through his stunned reactions to his own performance, through the suddenly palpable temptations of Hollywood and through the task of seducing that nutso girlfriend. Soto's a handsome, slim and towering young man, physically appropriate for the role if only he would remember his posture. Like many shy tall persons he has the tendency to hunch forward when seated or when addressing someone of shorter stature; that's a stance not at all in keeping in his imagined history as a successful television actor. He's quick and credible in the give-and-take with that old lush Barrymore, however, and he particularly rouses our sympathy in the second act as he tries to understand what Hamlet has done to him and to his concept of his own profession.


Evans as the ghost of Barrymore has some of the best lines in the piece. Some of them are of course by Shakespeare -- Hamlet's advice to the players -- but others are confessional anecdotes of Barrymore in his final drunken and debauched days, adding a telling sharp edge amidst the general frivolity.


Samantha Ireland is giggly and dreamy as girlfriend Deirdre. Unless I missed something, the script never really explained how our television actor got entangled with her or, really, what he sees in her other than an unbedded temptation.


Nikki Bora as Lillian, Andrew's jaded ancient agent, is a wisp of her former glory. She can see Barrymore, and they remember a mutual seduction in the same apartment. That left me puzzling for a time, for other than a passing reference to Joe Papp (of New York's Public Theatre, founder of Shakespeare in the Park) I didn't hear anything or read anything in the program anchoring this plot chronologically. I now know that Rudnick wrote I Hate Hamlet in 1991, coincidentally the year that Joe Papp died; Barrymore died in 1942, so a 50-year interval is probably about right for the memories of that fading encounter.


Director Sray picked bright, vigorous talent for the supporting roles of Felicia the bubbling New Yawk real estate agent and for the Hollywood promoter. Suzanne Orzech is goofily cute and relentlessly positive; Dana Barnes has got the big dreams of the big bucks down pat. The part of Gary Peter Lefkowitz as played by Barnes is so beguiling and enthusiastic that one feels that playwright Rudnick was sending up a whole Hollywood class with greatly affectionate contempt.


This was opening weekend and the timing in the more populated early scenes was not as tightly calibrated as it will be later in the run.  A minor note on the use of the telephone: please remember to give enough time to show us that you're listening to the person on the other end!


I Hate Hamlet moves quickly, has a touch of wisdom, only a whiff of pathos, a good deal of tolerance for the acting profession, and plenty of laughs along the way.





Comments by "Watry Beams" (a pseudonym!)


I Hate Hamlet concerns a former TV actor who has moved to New York, taking the apartment once owned by the legendary John Barrymore.  Andrew Rally the TV actor has been cast as Hamlet and he goes kicking, screaming, and whining into the role.


In this comedy at the Georgetown Palace Theatre, the script is a crowd pleaser with lots of jokes. Unfortunately, Kyle Evans’ John Barrymore is overshadowed by Andrew Rally’s Hollywood producer, played by Dana Barnes. Barrymore is supposed to have “the emotional resources of ten men” but Evans’ timing on opening weekend was a bit off and he was upstaged by the very energetic performance by Barnes.


Ismael Soto III plays the lead role, that of television actor Andrew Rally. He whines a bit much in the first act, but he pulls off the Hamlet lines very convincingly.


The fight scene choreographed by Toby Minor went well and used the stage nicely. Director David Sray blocked the movement to use the set well, and he has a good show that the audience seemed to enjoy.


Rally’s girlfriend Deirdre is played by Samantha Ireland, who is wonderfully goofy. As the New York agent Lillian Troy, Nikki Bora is delightful with her German accent and with nutty antics that provoked many laughs.  Suzanne Orzech plays the realtor.


The set is a wonder to behold, nicely painted and decorated to depict a medieval-style apartment.


I Hate Hamlet will make you laugh.  It runs through Feb 5 at the Palace.




Click to view excerpts from the program for the Georgetown Palace production of I Hate Hamlet


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I Hate Hamlet
by Paul Rudnick
Georgetown Palace Theatre

January 13 - February 05, 2012
Georgetown Palace Theatre
810 South Austin Avenue
Georgetown, TX, 78626