ATTLEBORO — Stephen Hug is both mesmerizing and entertaining as he channels the ghost of John Barrymore in Attleboro Community Theatre’s final production of the season, “I Hate Hamlet.”
Written by Paul Rudnick and directed by James Sulanowski, the play is set in Barrymore’s old apartment in New York City. It follows television actor Andrew Rally as he struggles over whether to take on the dream role of Hamlet while worrying about the health of his chain smoking agent, Lillian, and dealing with his girlfriend’s need to keep her chastity.
The play does a good job reflecting on the choices actors must make in the modern world. Should they pursue art or chase fame and money? That is the question in “I Hate Hamlet.”
Andrew is not crazy about the apartment and wants to leave. He is not sure if he is ready to take on a new challenge.
His girlfriend Deidre, however, loves Shakespeare, would love to be his Ophelia and is enamored of Barrymore’s legacy and the apartment. We also learn that his agent has some history with Barrymore.
When Felicia, Andrew’s real estate agent, claims to have physic ability, the group decides to hold a seance to conjure Barrymore. Thunder booms, lightning strikes and the actor’s ghost appears, but only Andrew sees him as he cries out, “I hate Hamlet.”
From that moment on you know you are in for a night of entertaining comedy.
Though the audience is warned ahead of time about the astute technical effects by North Attleboro’s Doug Greene and sound designed by director Sulanowski and Ben Christie, some still jumped in their seats.
Real life couple Rebecca Cunha Christie and Benjamin Shane Christie are making their ACT debut as Deirdre and Andrew. Rebecca is delightful as the dewy-eyed Deirdre and captures the romantic enthusiasm she feels for Shakespeare.
Christie displays the angst and frustration Andrew feels as her partner as well as the fear and lack of confidence as an actor taking on as dramatic role as the Prince of Denmark.
As Lillian, ACT regular Elizabeth Parent demonstrates her comedic timing with her character’s smoking cough and line delivery, complete with a German accent. Like Deirdre, she wants to see Andrew take on the role of Hamlet.
When Barrymore appears, he is dressed as Hamlet and makes it his goal to convince Rally to take the part.
Also making his ACT debut,, Hug casts a striking pose as Barrymore, and with his rich vocals, the Attleboro resident mesmerizes whenever he recites a bit of Shakespeare.
Most of the comedic highlights come from Dave Almeida in his role of Hollywood promoter/friend, Gary. However, Alicia Harris also has a few comedic moments as Felicia, particularly during the seance.
Watching Christie as Andrew prepare for his role as Hamlet and demonstrate for Barrymore how he will portray the character also filled the audience with laughter.
When Gary comes to offer Andrew a new television pilot that will pay in the millions and bring immediate fame, Andrew is forced to choose between legitimate theater and television.
This culminates in a sword fight between Barrymore and Andrew at the end of Act I. Kudos to Hug and Christie for some very good swashbuckling and kudos also to Chris Cardoni, fight choreographer.
Though this is definitely a comedy and not a tragedy, both Christies also have a chance to demonstrate some dramatic acting chops with recitations from Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” as well as monologues from “Hamlet.” Rebecca would make a very good Ophelia.
The play is worthy of an audience, and though the audience was few on opening night, they were enthusiastic and enjoyed the show.