Review: ‘I Hate Hamlet’

Paul Rudnick's lightweight "I Hate Hamlet" has finally reached Chicago, where it will be up against some stiff competition in both the commercial and nonprofit arenas, to say nothing of the nightly TV offerings.

Paul Rudnick’s lightweight “I Hate Hamlet” has finally reached Chicago, where it will be up against some stiff competition in both the commercial and nonprofit arenas, to say nothing of the nightly TV offerings.

Rudnick’s tale concerns a young actor, Andrew Rally (Stephen Caffrey), who rents a New York apartment formerly occupied by actor John Barrymore (John Vickery). When Rally moves into the baronial flat, he’s in the throes of deciding whether to give up a job playing Hamlet in Central Park for a corny, but lucrative, television show.

“You don’t do art, you buy it,” admonishes Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Larry Yando) , the Hollywood denizen who comes to tempt Andrew. But the ghost of Barrymore materializes and manages to convince Andrew he should take the nobler course and do “Hamlet.”

“I Hate Hamlet” is a slick but very thin piece of writing. Rudnick is almost as adept at crafting laugh lines as the master himself, Neil Simon. But Rudnick’s play is done in by the unceasing barrage of clever quips that constantly draw attention to the fact that little else is happening onstage. Only in the play’s waning minutes does Rudnick turn to addressing the glories of a life in the theater, and for a few pleasantly sentimental moments the comedy is something more than merely pedestrian.

Director Christopher Ashley moves the action along well enough, but his cast bears down too hard on every one of the show’s many jokes. In the role of the dumb but determined Hollywood writer-producer-director, Yando is the most entertaining ensemble member. Vickery gets the hammy part of the Barrymore character right, but doesn’t bring many other interesting shadings to the role.

Caffrey gives an earnest, though ultimately rather flat, performance as Andrew. As Andrew’s virginal girlfriend, Deidre, Martha Gehman doesn’t strike many sparks. Jane MacIver is much too stiff as Andrew’s agent, Lillian Troy, and Joan Schwenk’s accent comes and goes as the very New Yawk real estate agent Felicia Dantine.

Linda Buchanan has designed an appropriately lofty apartment set, but it’s a bit too brightly lit by Kevin Rigdon. David Woolard’s costumes — a mix of New York chic and Shakespearean garb — are fine.

I Hate Hamlet

Royal George Theater, Chicago; 460 seats; $39.50 top

Production

A Robert G. Perkins and Jujamcyn Theaters presentation of a play in two acts by Paul Rudnick. Directed by Christopher Ashley.

Crew

Sets, Linda Buchanan; costumes, David Woolard; lighting, Kevin Rigdon; sound, Rob Milburn, Michael Bodeen; fight choreography, Robin McFarquhar; production stage manager, Rebecca Green. Opened, reviewed Dec. 4, 1995. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

With

Cast: Stephen Caffrey (Andrew Rally), Martha Gehman (Deidre McDavey), Jane MacIver (Lillian Troy), Joan Schwenk (Felicia Dantine), John Vickery (John Barrymore), Larry Yando (Gary Peter Lefkowitz).
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