"I hate Hamlet!" Ah, the cry of so many high school English students, no doubt echoed by many actors who are cast in this juggernaut of roles nowadays. For how can any actor possibly improve upon the performances of yesteryear? The Burbages, the Berhardts, and, of course, the Barrymores have all had their characterizations of the Prince of Denmark described as definitive. What would an actor have to do to bring something new to the part?
Such is the dilemma of Andrew Rally, television star, in Paul Rudnick's comedic ode to the Dane, I Hate Hamlet. After his popular TV show has been cancelled, Andrew is left with few acting opportunities outside of a Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet. He reluctantly agrees to take the role following some persuasion by his ailing agent and his virginal girlfriend (who refuses to sleep with him until she's "sure"). Also thrown into the mix is the infamous John Barrymore, who has been called back from the dead to train Andrew on the nuances of performing Hamlet.
Rudnick's play respects the challenge involved in playing Hamlet while inviting the audience to laugh at the craziness that goes along with performing Shakespeare (or, as one character puts it, "algebra on stage"). Unfortunately, all of the humor in the script is lost or beaten into the ground in Las Vegas Little Theatre's production of this potentially funny piece. Instead of fine-tuning the timing of the dialogue, director M.A. Saunders has focused on broad humor and has apparently told her cast that nothing is too melodramatic to be put onstage.
The actors have taken this sentiment to heart. Andrei Mignea captures the fear that Andrew experiences at the daunting thought of playing Hamlet, but he does so by moping and sighing his way through the production. When Barrymore appears and offers his aid to Andrew, Mignea displays so much contempt for his teacher -- stamping his foot, mimicking other actors onstage, and turning his back with his arms crossed -- that one wonders why Barrymore doesn't give up on teaching him Hamlet and decide instead to haunt the brat for eternity. Rarely outside of a pre-school have I seen such a prime example of a sulking, spoiled child. Mignea gives us very few reasons to like Andrew, so why should we care whether or not he succeeds at Hamlet?
As Barrymore, Jim Williams is loud, boisterous, and exudes a lust for...well, everything. Though Barrymore needs to come across as a larger-than-life megastar onstage, Williams takes his performance well beyond the bounds of acceptability; his first entrance, for example, is drawn out and ridiculous. At one point, Barrymore declares, "I do not overact. I simply possess the emotional resources of 10 men" -- but Williams fails to make that distinction.
Erica Stoddard as Andrew's girlfriend, Deidre McDavey, is a source of pep for the production; but Susan Lowe does an inconsistent turn as Andrew's agent, Lillian Troy. Gary Peter Lefkowitz, as Hollywood producer/writer/director Peter D. Vitale, offers a clichéd characterization that falls flat. And Carrie Meyerman pulls out every Jersey stereotype she can find in her portrayal of real estate agent Felecia Dantine. In sum: jokes fall flat, lines are forgotten, and the acting is stilted or over-the-top -- sometimes, both! (Think: The Godfather does "To be or not to be"). Las Vegas Little Theatre has done excellent work in the past; unfortunately I Hate Hamlet has not received the treatment or the talent it deserves.