Enter Stage Right performs…gasp…’I Hate Hamlet’
PORT HURON, Mich.–Everyone loves Shakespeare, right? I mean, what person with a brain, or a heart, doesn’t appreciate the greatest English language playwright ever. [pause] Wait—what? You mean, some people actually prefer to watch sappy, shallow television to live theatre? Well, at least we can count on actors to love Shakespeare and theatre. I hope. The debate goes on with Enter Stage Right’s production of I Hate Hamlet at the Citadel Stage in Port Huron.
Stacey Jowett directs this comedy about Andrew Rally (Gonzo Gonzales), a handsome TV actor whose lucrative network show has just been cancelled. He moves from L.A. to New York and is cast as Hamlet for a free Shakespeare in the Park event. The problem is, Andrew hates Hamlet: the play, the character, the whole deal. He does not think he is good enough to play the lead role. Another problem: Andrew’s sappily romantic and melodramatic girlfriend Deirdre (Katie Weatherly) is a 29-year-old virgin who is waiting for just the right guy—she idealizes fictional characters such as Hamlet, but her flesh-and-blood boyfriend Andrew in the role of Hamlet might work for her too. Andrew is resistant, but his agent Lillian (Lisa Kramp) is in favor, and he really wants to impress Deirdre.
Andrew’s real estate agent Felicia (Rachel Kearney) has managed to get Andrew the former apartment of famed actor John Barrymore; she also happens to be a spiritual medium, and somehow summons the ghost of the late Barrymore (Michael McCartin) to appear to Andrew. Barrymore explains that it is the responsibility of deceased Hamlet actors to lend support to new Hamlet actors when call upon. With the guidance of John Barrymore, Andrew decides to give it a go.
Andrew’s friend Gary (Avery Bolt), a T.V. producer from L.A., doesn’t understand the decision, especially because there is no money to be made. He tells Andrew, “When [Hollywood] finds out you’re doing the greatest play in the English Language, they’ll know you are washed up.”
The coaching sessions between Andrew and Barrymore are pretty funny, and along the way we learn some tidbits about Barrymore’s personal life. Andrew is quite encouraged by Deirdre’s response as well—she has discovered a new passion for Andrew when he is in character as Hamlet, and she parades around the apartment in high drama fashion as Juliet or Ophelia, fueled by her obsession with Shakespearean romance.
When opening night rolls around, Andrew’s performance does not go quite the way he had hoped. His analysis is honest, but he discovers something about himself as a stage actor that he never knew: fame pays better, but making a momentary connection with a live audience, even a single audience member, is worth more than the millions he could earn in a T.V. career.
There are some real strengths of this production: Act I is quite funny, and Gonzales, Weatherly and McCartin have a rhythm with each other and delivery of their dialogue that matches the comedic style of the script well. Weatherly as Deirdre is funny precisely because she is over the top with melodrama, and her character would fall flat any other way. Gonzales as Andrew leans more toward straight-man funny, as Andrew is always painfully honest and says what is on his mind, even when it is unexpected. And McCartin as Barrymore is anything but humble regarding his own reputation in life, both professionally and personally.
Some weaknesses include a second act that slows way down on the comedy, and features too many scenes where the soliloquies and monologues go on too long for their own good. There are a couple plot holes that deserve explanation: first, why does Andrew hate Hamlet? In a show with this title, audiences may be expecting a little bit of an explanation on that account. Secondly, Deirdre and Felicia cannot see Barrymore’s ghost, but Gary can, and we are left wondering why; furthermore, Gary doesn’t seem to be surprised, or have much of a reaction at all, at the fact that a ghost has appeared and is coaching his friend.
On the bright side, it is easy to care about the main characters, and seeing Andrew’s realization that he belongs on the stage is rather satisfying, as is seeing Deirdre’s reaction to it.
Some mild adult situations in the plot may mean leaving the kids at home, but anyone else will probably find something to laugh at. I Hate Hamlet is playing at The Citadel Theatre in Port Huron through June 23, 2019.