REVIEW: I Hate Hamlet (Big Noise Theatre)

Barrymore’s ghost walks through ‘I Hate Hamlet’

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Big Noise Theatre Company presents:

I Hate Hamlet

By Paul Rudnick
Directed by
Craig Gustafson
at
Prairie Lakes Theater, Des Plaines
Through Feb. 7 (ticket info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Fluffy as cotton candy, Paul Rudnick‘s 1991 screwball comedy, I Hate Hamlet, numbers among those navel-gazing theatrical-themed plays that theater people always find enchanting. In this case, they’re right: Full of witty one-liners and ridiculous absurdities, this is a very silly, but very funny play.

hamlet14 Inspired when Rudnick lived in a New York apartment that had been home to famed actor John Barrymore (1882–1942), the comedy, currently in production by Big Noise Theatre in Des Plaines, follows up-and-coming TV-star Andrew Rally (the boyishly handsome Mark Mocarski), who moves to New York from L.A. when his hit medical series is cancelled. His elderly agent (Aimee Kennedy) has convinced him to give the stage a try, and although he remains ambivalent about both his desire and his ability to play the role, he’s been cast as Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park.

Meanwhile, his real-estate broker, Felicia (Terre Virgilio), who sidelines as a medium, sells him the late Barrymore’s New York digs, with — you guessed it — the ghost of the stage and screen legend — dressed for his most famous role — in residence. Although the living Barrymore deserted the Shakespearean stage for Hollywood, his shade (Rob Nowak) is determined to turn the diffident Andrew into an accomplished Hamlet.

That’s not the absurd part.

Andrew’s ditzy, deeply romantic girlfriend, Deirdre (Julie Bayer), is thrilled that he’s playing the sweet Danish prince, giving him hope that she’ll end their long celibacy. A 29-year-old virgin, Deirdre’s been putting off the infatuated and importunate Andrew’s propositions and proposals for years, waiting to feel that the time and the man are perfect. On the other hand, Andrew’s pal Gary (Aaron G. Stash), a fast-talking, quintessential hyphenated Hollywood writer-director-producer, is trying to lure the actor back to L.A. with a high-paying contract for the pilot of a lame new sitcom.

If you can believe in a chastely monogamous TV actor who turns down lucrative roles, you might as well believe in ghosts.

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As the ghost, Nowak brings the swashbuckling Barrymore to booming life. By far the strongest actor in this uneven production, Nowak all but carries the show, overcoming an awful wig, legs that cry out for padded tights and the faltering delivery of castmates. Bayer, suitably flaky as Deirdre, and Stash, expansive and frenetic as the big-talking Gary, also turn in respectable performances.

Director Craig Gustafson has not been able to coax fast-paced dialog from his cast, and poor timing often puts a drag on what ought to be glib exchanges, making some of Andrew’s self-criticisms ring painfully true. Still, with Nowak’s Barrymore and colorful touches such as Teresa Kerrigan‘s flamboyant costuming of Felicia, this good-hearted production captures the overall silliness of the script.

Rating: ★★

 

 

THE CAST

Andrew Rally ~ Mark Mocarski

John Barrymore ~ Rob Nowak

Diedre McDavey ~ Julie Bayer

Lillian Troy ~ Aimee Kennedy

Gary Peter Lefkowitz ~ Aaron G. Stash

Felicia Dantine ~ Terri Virgilio

 

THE PRODUCTION STAFF

Director/Sound Designer – Craig Gustafson

Assistant Director – Linda Andrews

Stage Manager – Helga Kennedy

Assistant Stage Manager – Daiva Paulis

Scenic Design/Master Carpenter – Tom French

Set Decoration – Katy Smith 

Set Construction – Peter Hillebrand,

Kathy Heinze, John Congram,

Frank Roberts, Ryan McCain, Rich Geiger

Costumer – Theresa Kerrigan

Lighting Design – Casey Diers

Lighting Execution – Aaron Andrews

Props – Helga Kennedy, Katy Smith

Fight Choreography – Scott Sumerak

Producer – Tom Walker

Executive Producer, Big Noise – Helga Kennedy

Artistic Director, Big Noise – Nancy Flaster

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3 Responses

  1. This was one of the worst productions of this play that my husband and I have ever seen. Obviously the director had no understanding of the script, word play or the comedy that was so apparent throughout the script. His inclusion of disgusting sexual antics by the actors lended nothing to the production and was unneccessary except for possibly his own personal enjoyment. The only saving grace was the lead actor who portrayed Barrymore magnificently taking the stage, understanding the humor as well as being mesmerizing in the dramatic moments – obviously this actor developed the character on his own as it was obvious from the direction of the other actors and the show throughout that the Director had no idea what he was doing.

  2. […] all. It’s not that its themes haven’t been covered in subsequent plays — 1991’s I Hate Hamlet, for instance, takes on similar Broadway vs. Hollywood issues — but that the cast is huge. There […]

  3. […] occasionally they flub the treatment, the most severe flaws in suburban shows typically lie in the acting. Do suburban stages have trouble attracting the talent performing in urban storefronts, or are […]

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