5/18/2022 I HATE HAMLET CenterStage North
ROAD CLOSED. ACTING AHEAD!
(Bias Alert: I have worked with actors Jerry Jobe and Julie Forbes Resh – not to mention CenterStage North – and tend to view their work through approval-tinted glasses.)
There are as many "schools of acting" as there are actors. But, when all subtleties and personal idiosyncrasies are brushed aside, they all come down to two -- "Performing" vs "Being," or "Outside-in" vs "Inside-out." Truth to tell, when either approach has been fully mastered, they can be indistinguishable.
Which brings me to Paul Rudnick's I Hate Hamlet, a crowd-pleasing little play that tosses a popular television actor into the "Shakespeare in the Park" Cuisinart with some unexpected but very funny results. CenterStage North and director Kirk Campbell have staged a very enjoyable production that lets the two leads chew on the nicely done scenery, actually leaving some to spare for the excellent supporting cast to enjoy.
Andrew Rally is a popular television actor whose show has been cancelled. To get some serious "Theatre Cred," Andrew agrees to appear as Hamlet in a Shakespeare in the Park production, despite having minimal stage experience, and less liking for the Bard. His real estate agent happens to find him an apartment that had once belonged to famed Thespian John Barrymore. Who, despite being long dead, is still apparently in residence. Toss into the mix a virginal ingénue, a German agent, and an L.A.-centric, well, we're never really sure what he does, but he is pure Hollywood, and we're soon enjoying a series of lessons in the fine art of "Being Barrymore," with a couple digressions into "Being Hamlet" and not a few distractions.
I've long been a fan of this script, due mainly to its theatre "in-jokes," its off-center sense of humor, its over-the-top characters, and its moments of emotional clarity. It also has some appealing surprises -- ultimate "performer" Barrymore taking "I have a process" Andrew to task for over-acting, for example ("Road Closed! Man Acting" is a beautiful put-down that more than one director has tossed in my direction).
Getting it out of the way up front, Jerry Jobe seems totally miscast as Barrymore, looking nothing at all like the portrait of the famed actor that dominates the set. But within a minute, he had me convinced, commanding the stage and every scene as if he were channeling the consummate star. Griffin Hutchins, as Andrew, is every inch his match, embodying the stereotype of a macho television actor with a sense of comic timing that is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold.
Almost stealing the show is Marcia Faith Harper as Deirdre, a comic force of nature in both the writing and the performance. She is able to gloriously mix eccentricity with a deep well of emotional layers that create a truly indelible impression. Also in support with good performances are Diane Dicker as Andrew’s agent Lillian, Julie Forbes Resh as the real Estate Agent Felicia, and Kevin Kreissl as Gary, Andrew’s Hollywood agent. Or Hollywood something. It really doesn’t matter. The play is staged on a wide, beautifully rich set by .... well the program doesn’t really say, but it looks great, using the long space and low ceiling effectively.
But, when all is said and done, this play belongs to Barrymore and Andrew, and with Mr. Jobe and Mr. Hutchins, CenterStage North has an entertainment engine that clicks on all cylinders.
I Hate Hamlet has enjoyed a long-standing popularity with regional and community theatres for good reason -- it is filled with sharp characters, witty and appealing dialogue, and a situation that feeds the fantasies of theatre addicts everywhere. It is a bigger-than-life portrayal of a bigger-than-life character in a bigger-than-life profession who won't let a little thing like end-of-life stop him from taking center stage.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol,com, #CSNIHateHamlet)
For the record, although there are no “period” cues, I suspect the play is set before 1991, since Joseph Papp is referred to as if he were still alive, and one character was old enough in the 1940’s to have had a fling with the Barrymore. BTW, I had forgotten that Christopher Moore’s novel, Shakespeare for Squirrels, got its title from this script, a sly reference to Shakespeare in the Park.