I Hate Hamlet invites the audience to spend an evening with a young man plagued by indecision in a marvelous modern re-telling of Hamlet’s own quandary. With ghosts that appear upon the clock striking one (though it be six o’clock, EDT), a queenly Mother figure in the form of an actor’s agent, and a young woman so in love with love she floats, Paul Rudnick’s comedy promises a night of homage to the past as it skewers pretense with the immortal petard from which all artists’ careers hang – live my personal art or serve mammon (and the yachts appurtenant thereto).
The action takes place entirely within the haunted confines of John Barrymore, Sr.’s New York pied-à-terre, a penthouse apartment with a living room set up as a louche lounging space, complete with fireplace, chaise lounge, and world globe doubling as a bar. Gray brick facing along the walls, the stone fireplace, and the suit of armor in the downstage corner all speak to Barrymore’s theatrical excesses and prepare the audience for the descent into a young actor’s personal crisis that sets the play into motion.
Sallie Willows directs this fun-loving cast. The action starts as Andrew Rally (Scott Morgan) enters his newly acquired NYC apartment, at odds with his real estate agent. Andrew, an LA actor who loves the money and attention he now receives after playing a one-dimensional pretty boy doctor character in a TV series, is spooked by the musty castle of an apartment that John Barrymore once owned.
His real estate broker Felicia Dantine (Nina Koziuk) is entirely smitten by it, embracing the idea that the apartment is haunted. Enter, by turns, Andrew’s love and fellow actor Deirdre McDavey (Courtney Petko), his professional agent Lillian Troy (Terri Ritchey), and his bedeviling LA director-producer-writer-friend Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Ed Johnson) who cannot help but pitch a new TV series with dollar signs in his eyes. All but Gary love the apartment. It is Art, it is New York.
Andrew, just offered the role of Hamlet in Shakespeare in the Park, is torn between his love for the easy life in LA, and the call to the stage he loved in his college days. He does not want to be Hamlet, but was pushed by his agent into the audition. Lillian, the agent, defends her choice by saying that all great actors must prove themselves, and, in an aside to the audience, let’s us know that she herself once fell for the myth of Hamlet, in that very apartment, in the arms of the real John Barrymore.
Crisis emerges when Felicia gathers them all around a table and falls into a trance. She summons the spirit of John Barrymore to come and help Andrew in his time of crisis. Barrymore (Walter J. Stewart), complete with cape and codpiece, responds. A night of personal conflict, roaring masculinity (with swords, scowls, and champagne), witty dialog, and femme fatales follow.
Rudnick’s rich research into the history of Hamlet and Mr. Barrymore generously feeds a script built for speed. Quips and dry humor delight throughout this clash of archetypes of the theatre – the TV producer who commoditizes his actor friend, the repenting older actor who sees the error of his ways, the starry-eyed young woman caught in her own fantasy of love, and the sophisticated women of the world who each pursue more practical dreams, if differently.
The stage, set into the proscenium of dark red clay and wood accents that betoken an auditorium built just as the real Barrymore breathed his last in 1942, makes the perfect visual tableau for the action. Set design by Lisa Stewart, painting by Anna Johnston, and set dressing by Mona Kay Helper present the mood of the play. Lighting, sound, and special effects designed by Rachel Johnston, Lisa Stewart, and Walter J. Stewart add to the dramatic moments as the play crescendos to Andrew’s final (or is it?) choice.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one fifteen-minute intermission.
I Hate Hamlet plays through February 2, 2020, at The Castaways Repertory Theatre performing at Dr. A.J. Ferlazzo Building 15941 Donald Curtis Drive, in Woodbridge, VA. For tickets, call (703) 232-1710 or online.