Elsinore, love it or leave it 

I Hate Hamlet

By Paul Rudnick
Directed by John Hurley
Astoria Performing Arts Center (718/278-5925)
Equity showcase (closes Feb. 23)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

I Hate Hamlet lasted only a few months on Broadway in 1991 and may be remembered most for an onstage spat by temperamental star Nicol Williamson . Compared to Paul Rudnick's more popular work-like the Off-Broadway hit Jeffrey, the movie In & Out and a pseudonymous column in Premiere magazine-it offers a considerably smaller dose of sarcastic repartee and snappy one-liners.

The play revolves around TV star, Andrew Rally, who's moved to New York to play Hamlet and, coincidentally, is living in the former flat of one of the most famous Hamlets ever, John Barrymore. Rally doesn't like the role and isn't sure if this is the direction he wants his career to take (his TV series has been canceled) ... lucky for him, Barrymore's ghost appears, to coach him on matters of life and art.

As the leads, Joe Whelski and Tom Knutson managed well enough. Whelski didn't bring enough of Andrew's inner conflict to the surface but merely coasted on his generic leading-man qualities. Knutson never fully captured Barrymore's mercurialness and magnetism; the actor's extraordinary physical attributes-he is very tall and has a balletic carriage-remained his most noticeable features.

While Whelski and Knutson could have been directed into stronger performances, most of the supporting actors were just wrong for their roles. Tomoko Otsuka seemed too mature and smart for Andrew's bimbo girlfriend. Slight of build and effeminate of face , David Williams was miscast in a part that calls for abrasive machismo (Andrew's soulless director friend, Gary). It was extremely unconvincing that this superficial egotist would look twice at a plump, middle-aged woman, as happened when Gary and Andrew's real estate agent, Felicia (Cassandra Kassell), paired off at the end. Susan Scannell was able to carry off her role as Andrew's agent, although she looked too young to be reminiscing about the '40s (Celeste Holm played the role on Broadway).

Poor staging was also a problem. The three-level set, with each level separated by a few steps, was a peculiar layout for a Manhattan living room. On the lowest level was a bed, although characters went offstage to a bedroom. Other careless details included Andrew going to bed with clothes and shoes on and Lillian wearing a fur coat to Shakespeare in the Park.

(Set, Carlo Dipaolo; costumes, Dennis Ballard; lighting, Niklas Anderson; sound, Marcos Sueiro.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 0
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Adrienne Onofri