We are products of our choices. With Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet, The Town Players of Newtown tackles the question of art over fame and fortune for one young, contemplative TV star. In doing so, the Town Players current summer fare proves to be the perfect antidote to summer doldrums and a delightful evening of theatre.
Ruth Anne Baumgartner’s production of I Hate Hamlet opened last weekend to the enthusiastic, receptive audience it deserved. Set in contemporary New York City, within the confines of a haunted, theatrical apartment, recent LA transplant Andrew Rally, played by Stephen Saxton, debates the pros and cons of performing the title role of Hamlet, in Central Park. His debate partners include his virginal, romantic throwback of a girlfriend, Deirdre, played by Jordan Rose Lee, and his caring, cantankerous and controlling agent Lillian Troy (Marguerite Foster). Even his real estate agent, Felicia Dantine (Linda Gilmore), weighs in on the extraordinary coincidence of not only moving into the apartment once inhabited by the quintessential Hamlet, the one and only John Barrymore, but uses her spiritual skills to enlist the long expired Barrymore to encourage Andrew to take on the role.
Filled with doubts about his ability, as well as his desire, to risk his career on a turn as Hamlet, Andrew goes toe to toe with each of these characters including the lascivious genius himself, John Barrymore (Rob Pawlikowski), in full on Hamlet regalia, as he returns from the dead to see Andrew through to opening night. Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Ward Whipple) offers the Hollywood alternative to the potentially humiliating and career killing Shakespeare in the Park turn.
The script itself is loaded with laughs. The direction and performers find these moments and play them with perfect pitch, they are subtle yet uproarious. As Andrew comes to terms with the inevitability of playing this role, he embraces it. John Barrymore cajoles, convinces and cavorts his way into Andrew’s heart as he comes to realize the value of exiting his comfort zone and making actual connections in the real world. The play manages to not only entertain but to move the audience with the Andrews enlightenment.
The strength of Stephen Saxton’s performance sets the caliber of the play. He conveys humor, vulnerability and desire with exceptional comic timing, energy and a rich palette of emotions. Rob Pawlikowski is both playful and soulful as the mentor to Andrews Hamlet. The two show off some very fancy footwork while fencing and both have well-honed physicality on the small set.
Jordan Rose Lee provides a sparkling, adorable energy as well as a lovely appearance and singing voice.
The supporting cast of Linda Gilmore and Marguerite Foster are entertaining and effective. Ward Whipple affects the perfect fast talking, shallow swagger of a Hollywood player, imploring Andrew that “they will beat this theatre thing together.”
The set makes excellent use of every inch of The Little Theatre’s small space, with its eerie yet inviting atmosphere. The costumes play well into the themes
“I was home watching television. I’m an American,” declares this John Barrymore. There is much to be missed if one takes that stance during this Town Players production. We are fortunate to have such a cultural gift in our midst.
(I Hate Hamlet runs weekends until July 20. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. There are no performances on July Fourth weekend. Town Players performed at The Little Theatre, 18 Orchard Hill Road in Newtown. For tickets call 203-270-9144.)