It’s easy to be drawn to Paul Rudnick’s comedy “I Hate Hamlet” even before the play begins at the Little Theatre, Newtown. Just knowing a little about some of the fascinating background to this play immediately intrigues readers. Rudnick actually lived in actor John Barrymore’s New York apartment with all its medieval charm. Rudnick claimed that he had to write this play in response to that experience. However, having read reports of the actor who first played Barrymore in this play and wounded the other lead actor in a sword fight on stage, almost draws one to the play as a re-enactment.
While it would be easy to imagine the goings-on in the production performed 20 years ago on Broadway, the Town Players cast does such a terrific job that one forgets about the past and enjoys every moment of the comic situations going on onstage. For starters, there’s Andrew Rally, the reluctant actor who does not want to play Hamlet in the park. Stephen Saxton takes on the role with a naturalness that makes one forget this man is acting. He manages to convince the audience that he is fine enough to honor his girlfriend’s chastity and big enough to accept the most challenging role an actor to play. This is when Andrew has to choose between playing Hamlet gratis or starring in a television series that pays the big bucks.
Girlfriend Deirdre, played romantically by Jordan Rose Lee, wants to hold on her virginity and her boyfriend and she wants Andrew to play Hamlet. She promises to marry him as soon as she is sure that she loves him, which she is certain will ooccur after he plays Hamlet. A trained vocalist, Jordan Rose Lee sings like an angel in a spotlight solo.
Rob Pawlikowski was born to play the role of Barrymore’s ghost playing Hamlet. His timing is perfect; his look, his stance, his voice – all are in perfect sync with the role. He delivers an absolutely unforgettable character.
There are three supporting roles in this triple treat production. Ward Whipple plays Gary Peter Lefkowitz as the ambitious agent determined to get Andrew to scratch Hamlet and sign on for the television series. Whipple’s performance is as energetic as it is enthusiastic. So too Linda Gilmore as Felicia Dantine, real estate broker extraordinaire.
Ms. Gilmore may be a fast talker, but the audience understands every word she says. Her elocution is spot on — and what a treat is that. Her colorful performance lightens and brightens the production.
Marguerite Foster as Lillian, who claims to have had an affair with Barrymore, delivers a five-star performance with her grace and delicacy in performing this role. She pulls out all the stops to finesse the role in the most positive way. She doesn’t rush; she takes her time in delivering the goods with a freshness that makes this play new again.
Directing with an artist’s eye for detail, Ruth Anne Baumgartner has fun with this show. She does manage to include her signature expertise with a charming song and dance. Since the director also headed the costume design, audiences will marvel at her talent for design, especially in the clever and stunning footwear.
Rob Pawlikowski not only plays one of the starring roles, but he created the lighting and sound designs. Both enhance the production. When it comes to enhancing a stage, one would have to look far and wide to find one as talented as Alexander Kulcsar. This master actor and designer has created one of the finest sets ever to grace the Town Players stage. Complete with medieval charm, large windows, and two levels, this set looks like an apartment that John Barrymore could have lived in.
Overall, this is an outstanding production. It plays through July 20 (no performances July 4 weekend). Box office: 203-270-9144.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and covers art and culture in a blog for CBS and CBS-CT. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]