A&E | Northwest Herald

Review: Cast makes ‘I Hate Hamlet’ a comedy to love

Karen Mayberry Greuel (Felicia Dantine), Trace Gamache (Dierdre McDavey), Rikki Lee Travolta (Andrew Rally) in "I Hate Hamlet."

When it comes to Shakespeare plays, many audience members have a love/hate relationship with them – love the plots, hate the hard-to-understand dialogue. When it comes to Elgin Theatre Company’s latest production, playwright Paul Rudnick’s “I Hate Hamlet,” my love/hate relationship is that I loved “Hate.” And if you’re looking for a fun night at the theater, you’ll love it, too.

The setting is a New York City apartment in 1981. Andrew Rally (Rikki Lee Travolta), a star from a popular TV ad and recently canceled prime-time TV show, has agreed to rent the space from real estate agent Felicia (Karen Mayberry Greuel) because – after auditioning five times – he’s accepted an offer to play the title role in a Shakespeare in the Park production of “Hamlet.”

The ghost of John Barrymore (David Gasior, from left), Deirdre (Trace Gamache) and Andrew (Rikki Lee Travolta) co-star in "I Hate Hamlet."

Andrew’s having second thoughts – about the apartment and the challenge of playing Hamlet – when he’s informed by Felicia that John Barrymore, the famous actor who played Hamlet decades earlier, also stayed there. Andrew’s agent, Lillian (Alison Thomas Hage), recognizes the space, telling Andrew and Felicia that she “had a little fling” there in the past – with Barrymore, no less. Deirdre (Trace Gamache) is excited that her boyfriend, Andrew, is going to tackle the Shakespeare role, and is even more enthused about the Barrymore connection and being in the same place as “the air he breathed.”

Alison Thomas Hage (Lillian Troy), David Gasior (John Barrymore) in "I Hate Hamlet."

Andrew’s friend Gary (Travis Greuel), a Hollywood writer-director-producer, thinks the “Hamlet” gig is a waste of time (“You’re no actor – you’re better than that. An actor is just some out-of-work guy who can’t get a series!”), especially since he’s been chatting up a network about a new TV series that Andrew would be perfect for. But when a seance is held with Felicia, Lillian, Deirdre and Andrew – and Andrew subsequently shouts in frustration, “I hate ‘Hamlet!’” – the ghost of Barrymore (David Gasior) appears to Andrew, primarily to guide him to success on stage but maybe offstage as well.

That’s the fun scenario of “I Hate Hamlet.” Under the skilled direction of Regina Belt-Daniels, and excellent acting across the board from this six-member cast (the interplay between Travolta and Gasior is alone worth the price of admission), the laughs are frequent and the emotions ring true.

Travis (Gary Peter Lefkowitz) & Karen Mayberry Greuel (Felicia Dantine) in "I Hate Hamlet."

Rudnick’s dialogue is full of memorable lines, and the cast gets the maximum mileage out of each one, including:

  • “Don’t ask me about great ideas – I am German.”
  • “You mean you padded yourself? Unnecessary. Even for the balcony. The second balcony.”
  • “Shakespeare, right? It’s like algebra on stage!”

There’s also the excitement of a sword fight (credit fight coordinator Deb Swinford for preparing the actors to realistically “shake spears”), and you’ll definitely remember the physical preparation Travolta does before Andrew’s initial attempt at the “To be or not to be” soliloquy. A full-page fake ad in the printed program hints at what Andrew learned.

Steve Connell, Barry Norton and Jon Kramp may not be on stage, but the set they’ve created – which changes significantly at intermission (including the addition of a full-size knight statue, Barrymore-as-Hamlet posters, and a throne) and includes a “Romeo and Juliet” style landing that’s aching for a balcony scene – makes you feel like this could indeed have been a Big Apple apartment for someone with Barrymore’s flair. Kudos to Connell, Norton and Kramp, and to costumer Trudie Dreyer for finding that impressive knight.

Andrew Ross deserves recognition, too; for theatergoers with hearing impairment, he uses sign language at Sunday matinees.

The only quibbles I had with the opening night performance were on the technical side. An intercom used by visitors to Andrew’s apartment didn’t buzz at all for several entrants, making you wonder how characters could tell someone needed to be buzzed in. Also, the theatrical tradition of flashing lights on and off five minutes before the end of intermission was shortened to 20 seconds, resulting in a darkened, but not totally quieted environment a lot sooner than anticipated.

The only disappointment is the limited run of this very funny play – if you missed it on its opening weekend, you only have this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 7 to 9, to catch it. As Belt-Daniels says in the program’s Director’s Note, “this play is an homage to the theater, acting and integrity,” but trust me – it’s also hilarious. Order tickets now for “I Hate Hamlet” before they run out – you wouldn’t want to be “bard” from attending.

[Note to readers: Masks are required for all audience members regardless of vaccination status. Proof of vaccination card or negative COVID test within the previous 72 hours must be shown to attend.]

• Paul Lockwood is a singer, local theater actor (including the new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” coming to the Woodstock Opera House), Grace Lutheran Church (Woodstock) and Toastmasters member, theater reviewer, podcaster, columnist, business proposal writer, and past president of TownSquare Players. He’s lived in Woodstock for more than 21 years.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: “I Hate Hamlet”

WHERE: Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division St., eighth floor, downtown Elgin

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7 to 9

INFORMATION: 847-741-0532, elgin-theatre.org/tickets-2/purchase-tickets-online