Laurel Mill Playhouse’s most recent production is Paul Rudnick’s comedic drama, I Hate Hamlet. Having never seen this production, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into but I was ready and willing to have a laugh. I got so much more. There was love, sex, betrayal, sword fights, blood (almost), soliloquies, history, unbridled silliness, and, oh yes, men in tights.
Ilene Chalmers directed this hilarious production which follows successful television actor Andrew Rally (Reed DeLisle) as he battles with the question of “to be or not to be” Hamlet in a Shakespeare in the Park production in New York City.
Rally’s agent Felicia Dantine (Terri Laurino) tries to convince him to take an apartment which used to be the home of the great John Barrymore, known for his tremendous career and for playing the role of Hamlet, which led to Barrymore being hailed as the “greatest living American tragedian.”
Rally is not sold on the apartment or the role, despite his frustratingly lusty yet chaste girlfriend, Deirdre McDavey’s (Emma Jensen), affinity for Shakespeare and the illustrious Barrymore, but when the ghost of Barrymore himself (Mark T. Allen) appears to sway Rally toward accepting the role all bets are off and the real fun begins.
The play takes place entirely in Barrymore’s old apartment in NY, simply and classically designed by Ilene Chalmers, with Lighting Design by Rocky Nunzio, Sound Design by Richard Atha-Nichols, and Costumes by Gloria Williams.
The show takes the audience into many moments of light-hearted folly, with Laurino’s Felicia conducting a séance in an attempt to contact Barrymore in the other world via her mother. Laurino’s character is all brass and spunk and her journey into her “trance” state becomes a hysterical amalgamation of the Three Stooges performed by cats.
Allen’s booming voice and imposing presence as Barrymore plays both ends of the humor/drama spectrum, but it is in his more serious moments that he truly enraptures the audience. Allen conveys the passion and intensity of an accomplished actor striving to convince a young fellow actor to see the value and grandeur in the art of theater versus the fame and fortune that can come from it.
DeLisle’s Rally has countless, meaningful interactions with Allen. The two spar with words (and, later, swords) and their scenes flow from moments of intensity to utter absurdity with great ease and naturalness, thanks to spot-on direction from Chalmers and the chemistry of the actors themselves.
Jensen as Deirdre is the unconsciously seductive object of Rally’s love and affection. Jensen does a fantastic job of capturing the innocence, naiveté, and sexuality of Deirdre. I doubt there was a soul in the theater, who wasn’t frustrated and sympathetic to Rally and his sexual plight to finally consummate his love with Deirdre.
Jean Berard (Lillian Troy) and Steven Bruun (Gary Peter Lefkowitz) rounded out the ensemble. Lillian (Berard) plays Rally’s agent, who happens to have a sultry past with the famed Barrymore. Lillian is a proud, poised German woman, who takes command in every situation, and Berard does a beautiful job bringing her sultry confidence to life.
Bruun’s Gary is loud and shamelessly shallow as Rally’s LA “Bud” and television producer, who has come to offer Rally a Hollywood contract and talk him out of his Hamlet venture. His smart-ass wit and disdain of the acting craft play an excellent contrast to the Allen’s eloquent and refined Barrymore.
I Hate Hamlet is a wonderful show. Congratulations to all of the production staff, cast, and crew at Laurel Mills Playhouse for this comedic gem. Perfect for date night, girls’ night, or any night, don’t miss this movingly fun-tastic production!
Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.