I Hate Hamlet

June 6, 2019

in Plays

Play (1991)
by Paul Rudnick

Directed by Fran Weinberg

Titanic Theatre Company
Boston Center for the Arts
South End, Boston
May 30 – June 15, 2019

With Megan Ward (Felicia Dantine), David J. Hansen (Andrew Rally), Shalyn Grow (Deirdre McDavey), Shelley Brown (Lillian Troy), Anthony Mullin (John Barrymore), Matt Arnold (Gary Peter Lefkowitz)

Shalyn Grow as Deirdre McDavey, David J. Hansen as Andrew Rally in 'I Hate Hamlet'

Shalyn Grow as Deirdre McDavey
David J. Hansen as Andrew Rally
in “I Hate Hamlet”
Photo: Courtesy of Titanic Theatre Company

A sweetly intimate production of a play about a Hollywood television celebrity who comes to New York to star in a live production of Hamlet.

Andrew Rally (David J. Hansen), a Hollywood TV star, has come to New York to star in the Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet. He has far more lucrative deals on the horizon back in Hollywood as his everpresent Hollywood producer Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Matt Arnold) constantly reminds him.

Andrew has not only come to New York to play Hamlet but he is also inhabiting the Greenwich Village apartment in which the legendary Shakespearean actor John Barrymore once lived. With a little bit of incantatory help, the ghost of Barrymore (Anthony Mullin) appears, ready, willing and able to coach Andrew through his current dilemmas. For Andrew, acting onstage altogether is one of those dilemmas, but, as well, the challenges of Andrew’s pure-as-the-driven-snow girlfriend Deirdre (Shalyn Grow) are significant.

This delightful little venture is really a play about acting for actors, but it serves as enough of an accessible window into the world of acting to make it enjoyable for anyone.

Apparently, Paul Rudnick, the playwright, actually did rent John Barrymore’s old apartment in Greenwich Village, and this play arose from his musing about what it might be like to transubstantially connect with the Barrymore spirit.

The result is a delightful little romp, full of good one-liners that play off the ghost’s status as a dead man, while still providing advice for the anxious protagonist that remains very much alive.

At the core of this comedic drama is the challenge to Andrew to rise to the occasion and really get at the heart of what acting is. Always lurking, as the threat to this artistic challenge, is the easy and much more profitable road of capitalizing on his significant Hollywood reputation, the cost for bankrolling those huge amounts his continued commitment to making endlessly inane television series.

Running parallel to this is Andrew’s desire to make it with Deirdre whose analogous interest in him is contingent upon getting signals that passionate romance is afoot. Whether Andrew can actually make it as Hamlet, or at least make a good effort to make it so, means the world to her and seems to be her price of passionate admission.

Meanwhile, a cute secondary plot involves Andrew’s elder agent, Lillian Troy (Shelley Brown) who apparently had an affair back in the day with Barrymore, which yields fruit as the play wears on.

Anthony Mullin as John Barrymore, David J. Hansen as Andrew Rally in 'I Hate Hamlet'

Anthony Mullin as John Barrymore
David J. Hansen as Andrew Rally
in “I Hate Hamlet”
Photo: Courtesy of Titanic Theatre Company

As Andrew, David J. Hansen is appropriately daunted throughout, and really gives punch to the scene in which he recalls connecting with a member of the audience during a soliloquy on opening night.

Shalyn Grow, as Deidre, is sweetly goofy and full of fun choreographed turns as she embodies the virginal proto-partner who channels Ophelia and wishes for truest love.

As Felicia, the brash real-estate agent and general hanger-on, Megan Ward gives a boisterous presentation, offering an accent that is an interesting hybrid of Bostonian and New Yorkese.

As Lillian, the superannuated German agent, Shelley Brown is piquant, funny and fully behind the singular lines which Rudnick seems to have fed the character like potato chips.

As the regal and overpowering Barrymore, Anthony Mullin has a grand and distinguished presence, making the character, appropriately, both full of theatrical self-possession and casually interactive. That is true to the Barrymore shtick, and Mullin pulls it off with nice suavity.

As the creepy producer Gary Peter Lefkowitz, Matt Arnold is quite Hollywood-out-there and presents the glitz and glamour card with enough carefree bluntness to hold down the obtuse corner of the table.

The play has a lot of funny lines, and though the writing stumbles in places it carries off the underlying theme of whither acting? convincingly and with heart.

The production, directed by Fran Weinberg, who directed the terrific production of Yazmina Reza’s Art in Lynn in 2016, is sweet, intimate, and pulls off enough of its funny lines to provide a consistency of chuckles throughout. Moreover, the production really does underline the whole issue of what acting and theater are all about, especially in the context of an overwhelmingly television-focused society that relies more on offering episodic impressions of, rather than penetrating insights into, character.

– BADMan

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