Review: 'I Hate Hamlet' uses slapstick comedy to probe value of art

Mike Dunham
CenterTix.net

Paul Rudnick’s hit comedy “I Hate Hamlet” probes the conflict between art and entertainment. Which is most important, it asks -- feeding your soul or feeding your bank account?

Some productions approach the serious topic with a deliberate sense of nuance; the excellent 1995 rendition at UAA comes to mind. For the current show at Anchorage Community Theatre, however, director Colby Bleicher opts for unvarnished farce, playing up the sitcom stereotypes of the characters.

Both ways work. In the case of the ACT version, “I Hate Hamlet” is a loony script full of loony people. The writing is wickedly witty, line after line, and the zingers -- particularly in the first act -- had the audience laughing almost constantly through the Aug. 31 show.

The story is about Andrew (played by Carl Bright), a television star whose series has been canceled and who takes a New York apartment once occupied by famed actor John Barrymore. Andrew doesn’t like the gothic quarters and he’s cool on the offer by his agent (Martha Robinson) to play Hamlet in Central Park. But his flighty girlfriend (Sarah Bethany Baird) is enchanted by both. She has the realtor (Jacqueline Hoffman) perform a seance to call up the spirit of Barrymore, the most famous Hamlet of his day. It doesn’t work -- right away.

But the ghost of Barrymore in tights soon materializes to Andrew. Tom Lucido does a slam-dunk job as the vain, pompous womanizer who, even in the afterlife, is in a permanent state of intoxication. But he does know his Shakespeare and, per some otherworldly law, cannot depart until Andrew has done the play.

The ghost stresses the importance of art and live theater. Andrew’s Hollywood buddy Gary, however, has a million-dollar deal set up if Andrew will return to Los Angeles. This part, played to a T by Jeremy Johnson, is perhaps the most interesting persona on the stage.

Stupendously shallow and self-absorbed, he’s nonetheless the voice of a counter-argument of some substance. What empirical value is there in art? How do you know if a Shakespeare play is well-done or not? Do you want to make big bucks and live a life of ease or spend your working years doing live theater in church basements, where the job includes setting up chairs for the A.A. meeting that follows the show?

Barrymore is in a position to evaluate both sides of the argument, having traded a lauded career on stage for a lucrative but lackluster twilight in the movies. At the end, once Andrew makes his decision, the play loses a bit of its steam. But the material that leads up to it, the laughs and the ruminations, more than make up for it.

I Hate Hamlet 

When: 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 21

Where: Alaska Community Theatre, 1133 E. 70th Ave.

Tickets: $13.50 to $17.50 at centertix.net.