When Paul Rudnick’s amusing comedy, “I Hate Hamlet,” opened in New York in the spring of 1991, it featured such stars as Celeste Holm and Nicol Williamson, but ran for only 88 performances. Thus, this New Yorker, and many others, never had the opportunity to see the play. Happily, I finally got my chance at tonight’s delightful opening at Montgomery College in The Woodlands, under the direction of Stephen Blaschke.
The comical plot centers on Andrew Rally (Micah Stinson), a successful West Coast television star from the show, “L.A. Medical.” At a turning point in his career, he is considering the more serious dramatic role of Hamlet in a New York Shakespeare-in-the-Park production. His realtor, Felicia (Jennie Treese) has found him a rather large New York apartment that once belonged to John Barrymore. In Act One’s moving-in scene, the spacious, empty apartment, with its twin staircases, looks more like a cheesy catering hall piled high with unopened boxes. Scenic/Lighting designer, Chase Waites, would be able to more fully display his skills in the Act Two transformation of the candle-lit and beautifully decorated apartment.
Andrew’s flighty, romantic (and chaste) girlfriend of six months is Diedre (Leigh Harrison). Harrison’s high pitched voice took some getting used to, and like several members of the cast, she raced many of her lines making it sometimes difficult to hear the often-funny dialogue. But her performance had considerable flair, and it grew on me as the evening continued. With excellent comic timing, her final scene was very well done.
Jennifer Alger served more great comedy up in the role of Andrew’s tough, wisecracking agent, Lillian. Again, we sometimes had the issue of lines of dialogue not being clearly audible, but Alger brought a good sense of fun to her performance. Another cast member who brought considerable energy to the stage was Nick Maddox as Gary, the Los Angeles producer who wants Andrew to forgo serious theatre and head back to Hollywood for another mediocre role in a high paying TV series called “Night School.” Maddox’ very animated performance could have been reigned in just a bit in favor of slowing down his delivery of a line and speaking with more focused clarity. This problem was not his alone. With one exception, the entire cast could benefit from some serious voice and speech training for the stage. There were even times when music overwhelmed spoken dialogue, and then, of course, young actors have to be made aware that, in as much as possible, speech should be directed to the customers, not to the wings or backstage areas. There is an audience out there. Hello!
I mentioned one exception, and that honor goes to the solid performance of Joel Looney as the ghost of legendary actor, John Barrymore. (I loved his line, “Am I dead, or just incredibly drunk?”) In this clever plot, Barrymore undertakes to train and encourage the reluctant Andrew toward his performance as Hamlet. Stinson and Looney are well paired in this journey, even when embroiled in a skillfully staged fencing duel (Fight Choreographer – Craig Miller). Both of these gents have strong scenes in Act Two. Mr. Looney was fiercely impressive in the scene where Barrymore desperately recalls his retreat from the stage and alcoholic decline in Hollywood. Moreover, Mr. Looney seems to understand Shakespeare’s caution to “…speak the speech I pray you, trippingly on the tongue…” He could give voice lessons to fellow cast members who may have thought a diaphragm was just a birth control device. But the group as a whole worked very well together, and the opening night audience had quite a good time, as the frequent outbursts of laughter made abundantly clear.
(The Courier 7.13.06)