Dorset lampoons the stage in "I Hate Hamlet"
DORSET >> Burton. Olivier. Branagh. Currently, the new rage is Cumberbatch. They all played William Shakespeare's quintessential tragic hero, Hamlet.
But Dorset Theatre Festival doesn't want us to forget John Barrymore (1882-1942). He played Hamlet in 1922 and then again in 1925. The performances received universal acclaim as the best ever from an American stage actor.
That tidbit is enough to develop the story around Dorset's closing play of the 2015 summer season, Paul Rudnick's spoof on all things theatre, "I Hate Hamlet." The show is directed by Carl Andress.
We find ourselves in the top floor apartment of a brownstone just off Washington Square in New York City. There, suddenly unemployed L.A. soap star, Andrew Rally (J.D. Taylor), comes back east to play Hamlet in a free Shakespeare In The Park production, ostensibly to prove his self worth.
Realtor Felicia Dantine (Annie Meisels) finds Andrew a loft once occupied by none other than the greatest American Hamlet, John Barrymore (David Lansbury), whose apparition enters stage left for a curtain call on his life – and to help Andrew prepare for the role.
Joining Andrew are his virgin girlfriend Deirdre McDavey (Haley Bond), agent Lillian Troy (Carole Monferdini), and the director of his cancelled soap Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Benjamin Pelteson).
When the ghost arrives, the real fun begins, and Mr. Andress has his players primed and up for the task.
Taylor was convincingly apprehensive about the free theatre gig, and added his boyish good looks to bring us a washed-up soap star extraordinaire. He was totally believable as a sexually frustrated boyfriend ready to pop at any moment. When the men in the audience can feel your pain and still laugh at it – you succeeded, sir.
I saw Miss Meisels walking to the Playhouse before the show and almost stopped to give her a ride, except I didn't want to ruin her mojo. Good decision! If she did her New York City caricature any more convincingly, complete with her marvelously delivered, brutal accent, and hideously gauche presence, I might not have made it to the bathroom at intermission.
Bond brought Deirdre's California flightiness east with her, and delivered a marvelous pie-in-the-sky idealism – as well as some guffaw-inducing lines from Shakespeare – that made us feel the roadblock, nay the Hoover dam of her virginity, and thus Andrew's frustration. Also, her affability was not contrived; this more than anything lent so much street cred to her love of Andrew.
Pelteson just might have stolen the show given a few more lines. Reminiscent of hustling show biz tycoons seen and loved on HBO's hit series "Entourage," he swayed, gesticulated and generally fired away verbiage at machine gun pace in the most superficial manner as befitting an opportunistic rogue. The L.A. Dodgers cap? Cherry on the whipped cream.
Monferdini was a real find, a precious jewel plucked from the gems surrounding her. Her Teutonic, sardonic take on Lillian was spot on, right down to the delivery of one signature stereotype zinger after another. But what impressed most through all the laughs was a smoldering sensuality from what was the story's oldest "living" character. Oh my. Oh yes.
Finally, local audiences got to welcome home former DTF intern and apprentice Lansbury, and the now-seasoned Thespian did not disappoint. He was raucous. He was foolish. He was a dastardly Lothario. But all with a grin on his face and massively overdone Errol Flynn elan. Welcome home, David; it was worth the wait for us. And the laughs.
The play ran just over two hours, with a 15 minute intermission.
Lights by Michael Giannitti added nicely to the romp, and sound by Ien DeNio at times was satire onto itself. Not enough can be said about Gregory Gale's outrageous costumes (Felicia's evening attire comes to mind) and Kevin Judge's set was a Shakespearian den of humor.
Once again this season, Unkle Dave's Fight-House excelled at funny fencing, and Jess Johnston's stage management kept all the moving pieces tightly run, start to finish.
There were a few preview night line hiccups, but nothing major that Andress won't have his charges iron out. I know. I sat behind him and watched him takes notes – the sign of a true professional.
The premise of Hamlet as a source of satire is perhaps most appropriate, since, in many ways, it is arguably one of the Bard's darkest plays. This is because, as the great literary critic and Yale professor Harold Bloom has said over the ages: if we can't forgive Hamlet for how badly he botched Denmark, then we can never forgive ourselves for anything
In that same vein, no one should ever take themselves so seriously to the point of resisting self-deprecation, or even ridicule. So if we can't laugh at this absurd rendition of a B actor prepping himself for the role of a lifetime, then what hope is there when we look in the mirror?
Thankfully, Dorset Theatre Festival's production takes the thinking out of our hands. So go see this play, because you will not only leave with a belly ache, but be able to laugh about that, too.
"I Hate Hamlet" runs through Sept. 5 at Dorset Theatre Festival, 104 Cheney Rd., in Dorset. For tickets and information call 802-867-2223 or visit www.dorsettheatrefestival.org
Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter:@TellyHalkias
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