Sunday, May 15, 2016

Wetumpka Depot: "I Hate Hamlet"

I Hate Hamlet, Paul Rudnick's 1991 comedy, is on the boards at the Wetumpka Depot. Director Tom Salter guides a top-notch veteran acting ensemble who garner abundant laughs through clever characterizations and adept delivery of Rudnick's witty dialogue, and while Thespian cognoscenti might enjoy the numerous theatre and film references, there is a lot in it for everyone to enjoy.

West Coast television star Andrew Rally [Clint Evans] moves to New York to star in a "Shakespeare-in-the-Park" production of Hamlet; his real estate broker and sometime "medium" Felicia Dantine [Kristy Meanor] secures a lease for him in the one-time apartment of iconic 1920s American Shakespearean actor John Barrymore; it is a Gothic pile that still contains much of the furnishings of its former resident.

Though Andrew has misgivings about playing the most challenging role [he is, after all, a mere TV personality, and claims to "hate Hamlet"], his long-time girlfriend Dierdre McDavey [Elizabeth Bowles] is there to urge him on; a would-be actress herself, she is infatuated with the apartment's connection to "the perfect...American tragedian", whose reputation for womanizing and boozing add to his dangerous appeal -- this in spite of the fact that Dierdre has been holding off on a sexual relationship with Andrew until she is sure that everything is right in their relationship.

Joining them is Andrew's agent Lillian Troy [Janie Allred], a Teutonic force to be reckoned with, who claims to have had a romantic fling with Barrymore many years ago.

As Andrew's self-doubt escalates, Felicia conducts a seance, after which the ghost of Barrymore [Stephen Dubberley] arrives to coach Andrew and prepare him to play the Prince of Denmark, and simultaneously to get Deirdre to relent to having sex with Andrew.

When self-obsessed L.A. producer Gary Peter Lefkowits [Lee Bridges] shows up with a "green light" multi-million dollar offer of a television series for Andrew, the plot thickens, and decisions must be made: artistic integrity and little money vs. celebrity stature for doing mediocre TV fare and lots of cash.

Mr. Bridges oozes with a huckster's assurance that can't comprehend that anyone would choose art over money; but he won't be deterred from convincing Andrew to take the TV offer by any means necessary.

Ms. Allred imbues the role of Lillian with sardonic acceptance that signs and omens are everywhere, and that Andrew must pay attention to his fate in playing the role of a lifetime. -- Ms. Meanor again demonstrates a pitch-perfect ability to deliver comic dialogue, and displays a myriad of subtle shifts of vocal energy and timing and movement; she is always surprising us with unexpected but character driven choices.

Ms. Bowles is a revelation in the role of Dierdre, a role so unlike her rendition of Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. The vivacity with which she inhabits the absurdity of Dierdre's insistence of maintaining her "virtue", and the uninhibited breathless enthusiasm and excessive gestures she uses in playing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, are so joyfully ridiculous (and credible) that make it a break-out performance.

The key to the plot's resolution depends on Barrymore's ability to convince Andrew to meet the challenge of the role he is about to play with just six weeks' rehearsal time -- and what an uphill battle that proves to be. -- Mr. Evans pulls out all the comic stops as he renders a version of Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy with ridiculous preparatory exercises to "get into the part", absurd histrionic flourishes, and "modernizing" the Bard's language to make it accessible to a contemporary audience [Rudnick wrote the play long before the Oregon Shakespeare Festival commissioned 36 playwrights to translate Shakespeare for ostensibly the same reason]. -- But Barrymore won't be put off; and Mr. Dubberley is also up to the challenge. Though he can "posture" and "pose" with the best of them, Mr. Dubberley commands each scene with the assurance of Barrymore's talent and ego. He pushes Mr. Evans to engage with Shakespeare's poetry, and in a finely staged sword-fight choreographed by Parke Fech, to acquire the confidence necessary to both play the role and secure Dierdre's favor in his bed.

The Depot has a first-class entertainment here: a witty script matched by a gifted acting ensemble. But greater attention ought to have been paid to a couple of production values: putting a cheap supermarket brand of champagne on stage next to high end bottles of Scotch and bourbon is glaring; and John Barrymore's Hamlet costume is so well known from vintage photos, that the substantial changes for both Mr. Dubberley's and Mr. Evans' Hamlet costumes won't go unnoticed.