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: ★★

 

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Chicago Theater Openings and Closings this week

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Show Openings

The (edward) Hopper Project The Storefront Theatre

24 Hour Project Infamous Commonwealth Theatre

Annie Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Artist needs a Wife the side project

I Hate Hamlet Big Noise Theatre

Killer Joe Profiles Theatre

Kink Annoyance Theatre

Mamma Mia! Rosemont Theatre

Mary’s Wedding Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

The Original Improv Gladiators Corn Productions

Out of Order Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Prisoner of Second Avenue Citadel Theatre

Private Lives Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Sleeping Beauty Winnetka Theatre

Some Paradise Annoyance Theatre

Too Hot to Handel Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Wedding TUTA Theatre Chicago

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Show Closings 

Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival Chicago SketchFest

Death of a Salesman Raven Theatre

It Came Upon a Midnight Queen Chemically Imbalanced Theater

A Look Through Our Eyes Gorilla Tango Theatre

Sketch and Sniff Gorilla Tango Theatre

Sublime Beauty of Hands and Klown Kantos Next Theatre and Theatre Zarko

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientolgy Pageant A Red Orchid Theatre

Chicago theater openings/closings this week

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show openings

Anna, in the Darkness: The Basement

Dream Theatre

Bastards of Young Tympanic Theatre

Calls to Blood The New Colony

Cats Cadillac Palace Theatre

Dooby Dooby Moo Lifeline Theatre

Everyone’s Favorite Lobster Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Flaming Dames in Vamp II New Millenium Theatre

Heroes Remy Bumppo Theatre

The House on Mango Street Steppenwolf Theatre

The Last Unicorn Promethean Theatre

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Filament Theatre Ensemble

The Man Who Was Thursday New Leaf Theatre

Mrs. Gruber’s Ding Song School Gorilla Tango Theatre

Plans 1 Through 8 from Outer Space New Millenium Theatre

Rachel Corn and the Secret Society Corn Productions

You Can’t Take It with You Village Players Performing Arts Center

 

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show closings

Ah, Wilderness! Loyola University Chicago Theatre

Bad Touch and the Deep End Annoyance Theatre 

Dirty Talking Amish Gorilla Tango Theatre

Dracula Oak Park Festival Theatre

The History Boys – Timeline Theatre 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Court Theatre

The Night SeasonVitalist Theatre

Rent Big Noise Theatre

Sleeping Beauty Big Noise Theatre

Stripped: An Unplugged Evening with Marilyn’s Dress Gorilla Tango Theatre

show openings/closings this week

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show openings

1001 The Theatre School at DePaul University

American Psyche or a Breath of Fresh Care Gorilla Tango Theatre

Bucket of Blood Annoyance Theatre

The Castle of Otranto First Folio Theatre

Dirty Talking Amish Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity Victory Gardens Theater

Endira Aguijon Theater

The Hundred Dresses Chicago Children’s Theatre

Kill the Old, Torture Their Young Steep Theatre

The Last (and therefore Best) Comedy Show on Earth Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Mercy Seat Profiles Theatre

Mouse in a Jar Red Tape Theatre

Richard III Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Salem! The Musical Annoyance Theatre

Sleeping Beauty Big Noise Theatre

Sleepy Hollow Theatre-Hikes

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Taking Steps UIC Theater

Ten Square Pegasus Players and MPAACT

 

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show closings

 

All My Sons TimeLine Theatre (our review)

Baroque and Beatles Chicago a cappella 

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Circle Theatre

Desperate Gorilla Tango Theatre

A Hampstead Hooligan in King Arthur’s Court Chicago dell’Arte

High Fidelity…The Musical Route 66 Theatre

Lorca in a Green Dress Halcyon Theatre

Merce Cunningham Dance Company – Dance Center of Columbia College

Miami City Ballet Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Miracle Work Village Players Performing Arts Center

The Set Up Prop Thtr

A Shroud for Lazarus Halcyon Theatre

Texas Sheen Chemically Imbalanced Comedy

Show openings/closings this week

show openings

12 Ophelias Trap Door Theatre

Animal Crackers Goodman Theatre

An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Dr. John Faustus on this His Final Evening Theater Oobleck

Fear The Neo Futurists

Lights Out Alma Annoyance Theatre

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Court Theatre

The Marvelous Wonderettes Northlight Theatre

Pump Boys and Dinettes Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Rent Big Noise Theatre

Splatter Theater Annoyance Theatre

St. Crispin’s Day Strawdog Theatre

UFC: Under Forced Closure Annoyance Theatre

Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life) American Theater Company

 

show closings

 

Bill W. and Dr. Bob EverGreen Theatre Ensemble

The Boys Next Door Jedlicka Performing Arts Center 

Bruschetta: An Evening of Short Plays Appetite Theatre

Illocal Comedy Corn Productions

Jackie: An American Life Theatre-Hikes

Poiseidon! An Upside-Down Musical Hell in a Handbag Productions

Rollin’ Outta Here NakedGorilla Tango Theatre

The Ruby Sunrise The Gift Theatre

Super Happy Fun Show Corn Productions 

Tuesdays with Morrie Independent Stars

TV Re-Runs Cornservatory

Under Milk Wood Caffeine Theatre

 

This openings/closings list courtesy of League of Chicago Theatres

Chicago Theater – Show openings this week

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show openings

1940s RADIO HOUR – Citadel Theatre

AURA – Redtwist Theatre

BAD HABITS – Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus

DISAPPEARING ACTS – Piven Theatre Workshop

THE GRAPES OF WRATH – Infamous Commonwealth Theatre

THE HISTORY BOYS – TimeLine Theatre

THE ILLUSION – Northwestern University Theatre

MACBETH – Babes With Blades

MARK’S GOSPEL – Mercury Theater

MUSING – Tympanic Theatre

OF MICE AND MEN – Steppenwolf Theatre

OLD TIMES – Remy Bumppo Theatre

PAT PATTON – Cornservatory

THE REAL THING – Saint Sebastian Players

THE SAUCE JAM – Gorilla Tango Theatre

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE – Big Noise Theatre

THE WEDDING SINGER – Rising Stars Theatre