Take a TV star who doesn’t care for Hamlet, add his girlfriend/fiance who thinks Shakespeare is the greatest and mix well with the all-too-lively ghost of the theatrical star known for his portrayal of the Prince of Denmark.
The result is “I Hate Hamlet,” a comedy with a soulful touch by Paul Rudnick, which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House.
The Elkhart Civic Theatre production, directed by Demaree Dufour-Noneman and assisted by Melissa Auvil, has a goodly number of laughs and, in the process, offers a few things for your consideration.
Among these: which is more important, money or integrity — specifically artistic integrity ? This is the dilemma facing Andrew Rally (Ryan Yeager).
Having come to New York to play the leading role in the annual summer Shakespeare in the Park production, this year of “Hamlet,” the TV actor finds himself definitely having second thoughts, primarily because, as he declares strongly to girlfriend Deirdre McDavey (Jacqueline Kelly-Cogdell), he doesn’t like Shakespeare and, most specifically, he hates Hamlet!
It doesn’t help that real estate agent Felicia Dantine (Victoria Lauren Gural) has rented him the apartment in which John Barrymore lived which he was playing the role on Broadway.
Enter Andrew’s agent, Lillian Troy (Stacey Nickel), who recalls her brief-but-intense affair with Barrymore in that very apartment. When Felicia reveals that she also is a medium, the women decide to have a séance hoping for the spirit of Barrymore to convince Andrew to play the role.
A bell tolls and Barrymore (Keith Sarber) appears — in costume — but only to Andrew, and the battle begins.
Stirring the pot is the arrival of Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Andrew Miller), a writer/producer friend of Andrew’s, with an offer he is sure the actor can’t refuse.Will a new TV show and a big paycheck wipe out the actor’s determination to play Hamlet? Or will his old insecurity win out and send him back to TV?It takes about two hours to determine the answer which involves not only some snappy one-liners but also some familiar Shakespearean dialogue.
Sarber is obviously having a good time recreating one of the best-known (and wildest) of the famous theatrical clan. He and Yeager spar sharply with both dialogue and fencing foils.
Since the setting is present day New York City, the determination of Deirdre to go no further than kissing with her boyfriend seems rather unrealistic, but does underscore his eagerness to learn from Barrymore’s apprenticeship on and off stage.
Yeager makes his reluctance to play Hamlet before a live audience more than understandable. His disgruntled “No sex. And Shakespeare. It’s just like high school” earned a sympathetic laugh.
In one of the quieter and most touching moments, Barrymore convinces Lillian that he also recalls their brief encounter and the duo share memories and a brief waltz.
Gural and Miller represent the garish elements of both coasts well enough to prove it’s better in the middle.
Set designer John Shoup’s modern-to-medieval apartment fits both requirements and morphs fairly easily from the former to match Andrew’s increasing attachment to the latter.
(Note: Tiny program print and muted light make program notes difficult to read in the auditorium. Take one home and enjoy it after the fact.)
I HATE HAMLET plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Oper House, SR 120 in Bristol For information and reservations, call (574) 848-4116 11 am to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.