Monday, April 18, 2016

'I Hate Hamlet' Opened April 15th At The James F. Dean Theatre--A Ghostly Great Play With Gregarious Implications

Unlike some of the older surviving buildings in and around the town of Summerville, the James F. Dean Theatre is not known to have any spectral inhabitants. That is, not until recently and more specifically, April 15th, opening night for Paul Rudnick's 1991 wacky play I Hate Hamlet--and its arrival unleashed a stage load of laughs.

With his doublet all unbraced, no hat upon his head, his stockings fouled, ungarter'd, and down-gyvèd to his ankle, and parading all the faux pas amassed through his life, but clothing can be, and often is misleading, this specter has come back for a noble reason. This specter is the onetime famous actor John Barrymore (JC Conway).

TV-star Andrew Rally's (Tyler Van Lott) hit medical series has been cancelled. His glamorous elderly agent, Lilian Troy (Arlena Withers), has encouraged him to give the stage a try and casts him as Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park--a role for which John Barrymore was famous. He makes the move from L.A. to New York where his kooky real-estate broker, Felicia Dantine (Heather Jane Logan), convinces him to acquire an old brownstone ironically once owned by the famous actor. Andrew hates the idea of playing Hamlet, but his longtime girlfriend, Dierdre McDavy (Melissa Frierson) loves it. Adding to Andrew's frustrations is the fact Dierdre has been tenaciously holding onto her virginity, not thoroughly convinced he is the one she wants to marry, but hints his acceptance of the role is seductive and the very thing that could end their long celibacy.

With Andrew, Dierdre, Felicia, and Lilian all together at the brownstone, Lilian reminisces about her brief romance with John Barrymore many years ago and Felicia, who claims to talk to her deceased mother, suggests they have a seance to summon the ghost of John Barrymore.

After everyone leaves and Dierdre retires to an upstairs bedroom, with blinking lights and a rumble of thunder, a slightly inebriated John Barrymore appears toting a bottle of champagne and spouting an ego even more pretentious than his black tights. He presses Andrew to accept the role and fulfill his destiny. Compounding things further, fast-talking Gary Lefkowitz (Robert Venne) arrives trying to lure Andrew back to L.A. with a high-paying contract for the pilot of a lame new sitcom. With all the necessary components now in place, Andrew clashes with his conscience and Barrymore's sword. Will the summoned ghost of John Barrymore succeed at helping Andrew appreciate the art of the curtain call, not to leave out life and love? Will Andrew fill his pocket book or nourish his soul?

Under the watchful eye of Director Julie Hammond, all-in all it was a triumphant opening. With a staircase and upper balcony allowing for various height levels and free movement, the beautifully appointed stage furnishings evolve much like Andrew Rally, from the modern drab to the Victorian, setting the appropriate mood after he begins to embrace the inevitable and dawn the necessary black tights. Key to the success of the play, the diverse cast did an able job at timely delivering the plays witty zingers and comical absurdities, which was confirmed by the opening night audiences responsive laughter and applause. Nicole Harrison dressed the cast for success.

In her inaugural role as Lillian Troy, Arlena Withers illustrious theatrical experience shined through. From the moment she appeared draped in a fur coat and puffing on a cigarette, she filled the stage with a flamboyant German accent and stylish grace. Rightfully deserved of an honorable mention, the touching scene where Lilian reconnects with John Barrymore and the two of them playfully spar with one another about their brief romance was graciously executed by Arlena.

Playing the incarnation of the legendary actor, JC Conway confirmed John Barrymore's black tights, though liberating, is not a preferred look for most men, but when it came to his shoes, he filled them nicely. When he wasn't juggling glasses of booze and wooing the women, he showcased his sword skills and how to bow to an audience. JC's shining moment came when he passionately delivered John Barrymore's deeply moving and tragic monologue in defense of his decadently tainted and esteemed acting career. You would've heard a pin drop.

Robert Venne was a good choice for the role of Gary Lefkowitz and decently delivered some of the more thought provoking dialogue of the play when he declared television as the most evolved art form because the audience can talk, eat and enjoy commercial breaks, while theater is all about figuring out whose armrest is whose, and as for Shakespeare he said, "You can't even tell when it's good." Not to leave unmentioned, "You don't do art, you buy it."

Heather Jane Hogan's crazy exuberance once again served her well as Felicia. Her what-I-call New York Valley girl accent cracked me up. Oozing with innocence and romantic idealism, Melissa Frierson, turned in a respectable performance as Andrew's beautiful girlfriend and Tyler Van Lott's Paul Newman-like persona, boyish smirk and casual demeanor, was a suitable match for the frustrated and befuddled Hamlet consideration--qualities he aptly portrayed in his character's pity me looks.

To quote John Barrymore's ghost, don't stay at home and watch television like an American. I Hate Hamlet is lighthearted, goofy fun. It is at times deeply moving, but most of all hilarious.

Purchase your ticket at Flowertown Players April 15th to the 24th.

Director Julie Hammond and Friends

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