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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Hamlet v. a return to Hollywood

Published: November 2, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

The Undergraduate Theatre Collective's Fall 2007 season got off on the right foot last weekend, as the Brandeis Players hilarious production of Paul Rudnicks I Hate Hamlet, directed by David Pepose 08, ran for four performances.

The play follows Andrew Rally (Brian Melcher 10), star of a recently-canceled television medical drama, as he moves to New York and is confronted with the terrifying opportunity to star as Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park.

Although his passionate girlfriend Deirdre (Caroline Cappello 11), his aging agent Lillian (Rachel Kurnos 08), and his real estate agent/spiritual medium Felicia (Annie Chiorazzi 11) all urge him to embrace the opportunity, Rally remains hesitant.

During an attempted sance, however, legendary Shakespearean actor/seducer/alcoholic John Barrymore (Ernest Paulin 09), the former owner of Rallys new apartment, returns from the dead to be Rallys spiritual guide in preparing for the role of Hamlet.

To complicate matters, now Barrymore cannot in fact return to the realm of the dead (and leave Rally alone) until Rally has performed in the role of Hamlet. Thus, the old, dead actor embarks on a quest to first convince Rally it is his destiny to play this role, then try to mold him into the greatest Hamlet of this generation.

This play places a particular burden on the actors playing Barrymore and Rallyboth get very few breaks from being onstage, and the show would flounder with a weak performance from either. Paulin and Melcher, fortunately, succeeded in their roles with aplomb.

Paulin, as the eccentric, flamboyant, charming, sarcastic greatest Hamlet of his generation, may be ready to run a seminar on comic deliveryabout ninety percent of his lines in the first act earned laughter from the audience. That is not to say, however, that his was purely a clownish performance;

he radiated an intense focus within the scene, and even his quite serious monologue in act two, reflecting on his move from the stage to Hollywood, was enthralling.

Melcher turned in a sterling naturalistic performance, displaying a good sense of comedy himself (although his character is frequently the straight man against Barrymores antics) and succeeding equally well at working through the serious issues, both in his career and in his relationship with Deirdre, that Rally faces in the course of the play.

The supporting cast was also strong. In the role of Deirdre, Rallys passionate, sexually-abstinent girlfriend of five months, Cappello brought a wonderful enthusiasm, warmth, and an interesting sensuality to the stage, although once in a while she did seem to creep in the direction of caricature with Deirdres extremely passionate nature.

Kurnoss accent seemed to slip a couple times during the performance, but apart from that minor issue she showed a very strong grasp of her character, from the warmth of her long-sought final reunion with the spirit of Barrymore, her former lover, to her impeccable sense of Lillians sarcastic wit.

Brendan Doris-Pierce 07 also filled his role very well as the smooth, charming, self-centered Gary, a driving force from Rallys television career who is trying to get Rally to sign on to do another pilot.

The set, designed by Melcher and Mike Martin 09, was yet another strength of the production. The dominant dark green and maroon color scheme on the walls had a certain regal feel befitting the proud, larger-than-life personalities of its past and present inhabitants. The portrait of Barrymore and view out of a window, both painted by Paulin, were beautiful touches that further classed up the background of the plays action.

The sound and lights, designed by Daniel Reed 10 and Daniel Chavez 10 respectively, were solid throughout. The low lighting with electric candles in the background for Lillian and Barrymores scene together made for a particularly lovely, intimate, and memorable scene. The costumes, designed by Ariella Herman 11 and Sarah Jacobs 09, worked well within the show, although most were rendered somewhat forgettable by all the humor focusing on Barrymore and Rally in tights.

If one real problem had to be singled out in the production, it would be the mild identity crisis the script undergoes in the second act.

The first act centers on Rallys decision between accepting the role of Hamlet and returning to Hollywood, and faces the problem with razor wit and hilarity. Why should Rally choose Shakespeare over a TV drama about a high school teacher who moonlights as a superhero?

In the first act, Barrymore leads Rally on a tear through the Get thee to a nunnery speech that overpowers and seduces away Deirdres resistance to Rallys sexual advances (before Gary shows up and interrupts them) and, later, a hilarious swordfight between the ghost and the actor after which Rally declares he will play Hamlet. These sequences are memorable and comically play on the visceral accessibility of Shakespeare;

they are fun, exciting, and hilarious.

In the second act, after eventually proving a somewhat dismal failure in the role of Hamlet, Rally grapples with the problem of whether to return to Hollywood or stay in New York. Except now, lengthy monologues abound and the exciting and witty comedy is much sparser.

The show does not become dull by any means, but in trying to hammer home the message about trusting ones artistic impulses rather than financial security, at the very least the show begins to drag a little in getting away from the humor, which had worked just fine for leading Rally to the very same decision in act one.

The scripts late clumsiness, however, is not remotely enough to overshadow the hilarious comedy, strong performances, and rock solid design work at the core of this production. Overall, the cast and staff of I Hate Hamlet have put on a production to be proud of that stands as an excellent start to the Fall UTC season.