REVIEW: Theatre Macon cast up to the challenge of 'I Hate Hamlet'

By R. Andrew Strickland
(Originally published in the Macon Telegraph, September 20, 2005.)

It seems that everyone has a polar opinion on the works of William Shakespeare. Some people cherish the bard's works, relishing every opportunity to see those classics performed. To others, the works of Shakespeare are like "algebra on stage." Both of these attitudes are on comic display in Theatre Macon's production of Paul Rudnick's "I Hate Hamlet."

Rudnick's script traces the exploits of Andrew Rally, a television actor, as he attempts the most difficult theatrical role in the English language: Hamlet. Rally is surrounded by a host of well-meaning friends, each with their own take on his bid to perform the melancholy Dane. Just as Rally decides not to try the role, his life is thrown into further turmoil by the appearance of the ghost of John Barrymore. The ghost has arrived to complete a long theatrical tradition: Each new Hamlet is visited by a Hamlet of the past to help him through the impossibly complex role. Barrymore proves equal parts help and hindrance as he flamboyantly tutors Rally for both his upcoming performance and romantic life.

The roles of both Rally and Barrymore are carried off well in the Theatre Macon production. Derek Wright is enjoyable as Andrew Rally, finding a nice mix between the confident actor and the confused Shakespearean neophyte.

Wright does not always come across as youthful as the role requires but amply compensates for this with an honest, nuanced performance. As his ghostly counterpart, Steven Smith recreates Barrymore with over-the-top glee. Smith handles the comedy well, but he is especially effective when exploring Barrymore's more introspective side.

Both gentlemen handle the physical demands of the production, including everything from sword fighting to highly involved curtain calls, with great aplomb.

The rest of the "I Hate Hamlet" cast is up for the challenge too. Aaron Scot Cooley ignites the stage as the self-centered film director Gary Peter Lefkowitz. Cooley has the cadences of Hollywood-speak down pat, delivering Gary's constant patter with a nice natural delivery and boundless manic energy. JoAnn Green is likewise effective as Lillian Troy, Andrew's hard-smoking German agent. Green explores both Lillian's tough exterior and her romantic soul with a wonderful caustic charm. Faira Holliday is deliciously flighty as Andrew's girlfriend, Deirdre, while Kristi Smith brings a driving energy to New York real estate agent Felicia.

Director Jim Crisp has staged the play beautifully, giving the action a nice fluidity. This effort is assisted by J.P. Haynie's fight choreography as well as outstanding technical design by Shelley Kuhen (costumes), Gilchrist McPhaul (hair and wigs), and Tony Pearson (lighting). The scenic design is typically excellent, with Barrymore's haunted brownstone brought to life with the suggestion of heavy woodwork and wrought iron.

Though highly entertaining, this production of "I Hate Hamlet" seems like it should be funnier. Many comic moments fall flat, especially in the early part of the first act. A good bit of Rudnick's humor requires a certain New York perspective to appreciate, but poor timing is equally responsible for the lost laughs. The comedy improves markedly during the performance, and the actors show wonderful ability with the dramatic moments of the second act. Portions of the play are slightly difficult to understand, due largely to the actors' mixed success with the difficult character voices required by the script.

Still, Theatre Macon's production is a take on Shakespeare everyone can enjoy - whether they hate Hamlet or not.

R. Andrew Strickland
Since 1/10/02
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