I Hate Hamlet Shows How the Struggle is Real in Theatre with a Perfect Balance of Truth and Comedy

In a Time Where the World is Upside Down, This is Definitely the Type of Show we Need 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

John DeCarlo, Lynnia Shanley and Alex Guzman in I Hate Hamlet. Photo by Ken Jacques
Scripps Ranch hit the mark with its latest production I Hate Hamlet. What would seem like a silly and light comedy, goes deeper into the world of a performer, its audiences, and the infamous tiff between the east and west coasts.

The piece also has a complete and functional stage design by Alyssa Kane, which adds to the storytelling and is the best I have seen at Scripps along with Pam Stompoly's costume design that is esthetically pleasing and crafted with care all the way to the shoes and Deirdre's bag.

 I Hate Hamlet, written by American playwright Paul Rudnick, premiered in New York in 1991 and it is unbelievable that that was 31 years ago which means, I am dating myself. Anyway, the plot takes place in New York where Andrew Rally (Alex Guzman) a TV actor based in Los Angeles, just booked the role of Hamlet in the famous Joe Papp founded Shakespeare in the Park. Rally's latest TV show where he played a doctor to great praise, got canceled so, even though questioning the Hamlet role, he feels it is the next best thing especially since his girlfriend Deirdre (Lynnia Shanley) is such a big fan of The Bard. Felicia his realtor (Christine Hewitt) rents him John Barrymore's former apartment. Barrymore (John DeCarlo) is a deceased actor who gave one of the best Hamlets of all time. Andrew is feeling unsure about the whole thing and Felicia suggests trying to contact Barrymore's spirit for guidance which she gets but does not know. John Barrymore is out and about in the apartment and only Andrew can see him. Turns out that he was the total ladies' man and had a love encounter back in the day with Andrew's agent Lillian (Jill Drexler). Barrymore is infatuated with Hamlet and convinced he can train Andrew for his own run which he is still unsure of. The ghost starts a sword fight and challenges Andrew bringing an "aha" moment where the young mediocre thespian gives his all to the training and not only is convinced to embody Hamlet but almost John Barrymore's version of Hamlet. Another factor that inspires Andrew aside from his girlfriend's Shakespeare fandom is that she is a virgin and is waiting for the perfect moment. As opening night comes, Gary (Adam Daniel), a friend of Andrew from Hollywood comes to the city with a new pilot offer that will bring millions. He also gives Andrew a 101 on "making art Vs buying art" and explains that making theatre, specifically the role of Hamlet is for struggling, has-been actors. Gary can see John but does not know he is a ghost. After Andrew's paranormal experience and training, he decides to turn down the TV gig and continue with his theatre venture. Opening night comes and he sort of tanks the first act but recovers in the second and realizes he is where he is supposed to be. 

Jill Drexler and John DeCarlo in I Hate Hamlet. Photo by Ken Jacques.

I Hate Hamlet is definitely the type of piece that we need right now. A comedy that might seem silly but really hits various marks like how real the struggle of a theatre performer is and what happens when TV is involved, the references to Shakespeare in the Park, acting on an outdoor stage with bugs, passing plains, and a lot of noise as well as the never-ending tiff between Los Angeles and New York in the entertainment world. With Hamlet being the play at play, it also touches upon audience development, different entertainment formats, and young versus older. A very current, relevant topic in theatre today and now more than ever after the pandemic (or with the pandemic, I do not know anymore).

The company is great, but the weight of the laughs and the stage are carried by Alex Guzman and John DeCarlo whose extra take on Barrymore is meticulously terrific. Adam Daniel was an audience favorite as well with his great portrayal of the dollar-focused LA friend and producer. Christine Hewitt as the lively New Yorker realtor is corky and funny with a curly wig that has a personality of its own. Jill Drexler Andrew's agent is funny as well with a strong sexy presence (yes long red dress and back necklace!). Lynnia Shanley as the lovesick girlfriend Deidre was a fun interpretation but left me wanting more juice out of the role. If someone knows how to do comedy it is Phil Johnson and his directorial hand is present throughout the play gifting the audience with a fun, entertaining, and truthful piece.

The moral I see in this story aside from the fun and laughs is the contingency plan theatre companies need to put in place for audience development. Still incorporating the classics in their seasons but also bet on new stories that explore different topics with diverse storylines and casts as well as communicating to diverse season subscriber prospects. Investing in new pathways will push against systemic issues that have to do with the lack of funding and decent salaries for theatre professionals across the board.

I hate Hamlet is currently playing until June 12th. For more information on ticket prices and performances click here

COVID-19 Policy: Monitoring rising Covid numbers, and staying in line with San Diego Theaters, Scripps Ranch Theatre requires the use of a well-fitting mask indoors.

Phil Johnson Director of I Hate Hamlet with the cast. Photo Ken Jacques.

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