Hurts so good

Proscenium Players Inc. will make you laugh ’til you cry with I Hate Hamlet

John Barrymore (John Gillie), right, helps his protégé (James Godwin) play the Prince of Denmark—and get the girl (Christiana Frank)—in <i>I Hate Hamlet</i>.

John Barrymore (John Gillie), right, helps his protégé (James Godwin) play the Prince of Denmark—and get the girl (Christiana Frank)—in I Hate Hamlet.

Rated 5.0

I was exhausted, and I was sick. My throat hurt, and I had been coughing for days, and a sinus headache had overtaken half my face until even my teeth were throbbing. I left for the Brewery Arts Center in Carson City with a weary sense of duty, and though I knew my state of mind was not conducive to a good review, I had to get it over with. Please, I thought, let this play not be too painfully bad.

By the end of the evening, I was still in pain: My stomach and throat hurt from laughing for two hours straight. Proscenium Players Inc.'s production of I Hate Hamlet is a hilarious blend of satire and pure goofiness, and my only criticisms are so insignificant as to be nit-picky. The acting is superb; the set is magnificent; the costumes have been chosen and created with care. Nearly every element of the production has obviously been labored over, and the end result is nothing short of fabulous.

I Hate Hamlet was conceived when playwright Paul Rudnick answered an ad in the New York Times real estate section for a “medieval duplex.” The apartment turned out to be the former digs of the Great Profile, John Barrymore, who had renovated the place into his own gothic retreat. Barrymore, of course, is heralded as the Hamlet of his generation, a matinee idol whose rise to fame was matched in intensity by his alcoholic decline.

Rudnick built upon several spooky coincidences and “karmic details” to create I Hate Hamlet, the story of a light-weight TV actor, Andrew Rally, who moves to New York after his show is canceled and reluctantly accepts the challenging role of the Prince of Denmark in a “Shakespeare in the Park” performance. He finds Barrymore’s apartment through a psychic real estate agent, who summons the late actor with an impromptu séance, and Barrymore’s ghost proceeds to school the young actor in acting and love.

The plays barrels along at fever pitch, with each character hamming it up for maximum manic hilarity. The pace is set by James Godwin as Rally, whose knack for physical comedy and timing is impeccable. When he enters the stage in full Hamlet regalia, his eyebrow arched intensely—and his codpiece bulging grotesquely—you may need a moment to regain your composure. I can’t say enough good things about this young actor, and I look forward to seeing him in as many plays as possible.

Accolades also go to John Gillie, who plays Barrymore with the perfect mixture of legendary elegance and snotty immaturity. Gillie’s voice and mannerisms are grandly overdone, and his Hamlet costume is a sight to behold. Double kudos go to Karen Chandler-Gillie for her excellent direction and for creating this glittering velvet masterpiece.

Christiana Frank plays Rally’s ditzy girlfriend, Deirdre McDavey, and her innocent, idealistic monologues will keep you snickering at their naïve absurdity. When she began her closing monologue and said plaintively: “Oh, Mr. Moon. You’re so big … and round … and yellow,” I nearly fell out of my chair. I couldn’t help noticing that Frank looks a lot like Cameron Diaz; luckily, Frank also shows the same grasp for comedy as that star did in There’s Something About Mary.

If I had more room to write, I could extol the virtues of supporting actors Michon Deem, Jason Macy and Misty Wycoff, but I have to reserve my remaining space for one small complaint: Several awkward lighting changes detracted from the performance. Perhaps these mistakes were limited only to opening night, and hopefully the hesitant flickering and missed cues will be resolved. If so, this production will be, like Hamlet, a study in perfection.