Theatre Review: “I Hate Hamlet” by the Carmel Community Players

Last Sunday afternoon I drove to the Carmel Community Playhouse in the Claypool Terrace shopping area of Carmel, Indiana (just north of Indianapolis) to see the Carmel Community Players’ production of “I Hate Hamlet.”  This comedy was written by Paul Rudnick.  It was directed for CCP by Lori Raffel and produced by Risa Krauter.

It was so good!  I leapt to my feet to applaud even before the house lights came up for the curtain call.  I drove to my next appointment with a wet but smiling face, feeling grateful for every person that answers the call to be a stage actor.

The following Thursday I went back to see the show a second time and enjoyed it tremendously again.  I wish it ran for three weekends instead of just two.  (I also wish I had a photo from the show to share with you, but never mind.)(Update 4/10/11 – Lori Raffel emailed me the above rehearsal photo.  Thanks, Lori!)

Tonight and tomorrow afternoon are your last chances to see this funny and exceptionally well directed all-volunteer production. 

What the Show Is About

A relatively famous TV actor, Andrew Rally, has come from Los Angeles to New York to try to revive his career and his artistic energy.  However, he has mixed emotions about the opportunity that has brought him here: a chance to play the title role in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in an outdoor theatre.

His real estate agent finds him an apartment that used to belong to the famous stage and screen actor John Barrymore.   Andrew balks even further when he sees how ornately decorated the apartment is.  “This is not me,” he says.  Not this apartment, and not this role.

But his realtor and his girlfriend, who is also an actor, both urge him to stay.  They even hold an impromptu séance to try to contact Barrymore’s ghost, with no luck.

After they leave, however, John Barrymore does appear.   He is determined to help Andrew answer his true calling as an actor and as a person, whether Andrew wants his help or not.  John stands firm even when Andrew’s TV agent, Gary, tells him about an obscenely lucrative new TV deal.  Andrew learns about passion, humility, and more.  In the process of teaching Andrew, John finds growth and peace for himself, too.

This is a play about the importance of “facing the dragon” in work and love, even when you’re not sure that you will survive. 

It is also a play that acknowledges in a funny way the reasons some people resist going to see live theatre and maybe always will.  But it also acknowledges the reasons why the rest of us – artists and/or audience – will never give it up.

Artistic Considerations

Both the leads and the supporting characters – as written and as acted in this production – are strong and fully-fleshed (yes, even the ghost.)  This is definitely a comedy, and therefore it is silly and fun, but there are also many delightful little layers of deeper meaning in the script that have been teased out just right by the director and her ensemble of actors.  I think I am going to tape “Are you an artist or a lunchbox?” and “Yes, I went back to Hollywood, but first I played Hamlet – have you?” over my desk to remind me of them.

The brotherly dramatic-comedic energy between Earl Campbell, who plays the lost yet likable Andrew Rally, aka the reluctant Hamlet, and Eric Bryant, who plays the womanizing (but never beastly) and more experienced John Barrymore, aka the established Hamlet, is a treat to be around, especially when they are verbally sparring.  Their rapier duel, choreographed by Eric, who is an experienced fight choreographer as well as actor, is also fun and exciting to watch.   Both men tap into, and convey, their characters’ emotions and humor in deeply satisfying ways.

Sarah McGee gives Andrew’s ingénue girlfriend, Deirdre McDavey, a ditsy and demure – but not stupid – charm.  Laura Lanman Givens is a hoot as the feisty-sexy, pseudo-psychic realtor, Felicia Dantine.  And Shawn Evans is a comedic avalanche as the fratboy-esque TV agent, Gary Peter Lefkowitz.

But I have to say that my favorite supporting character is Andrew’s no-nonsense, German-American theatre agent, Lillian Troy, played by Ginny Burt.  Lillian is aging and she is ill, but she once had a fling with the great John Barrymore and no one can take that away from her.  I was enthralled by the fact that with only a few lines and scenes, Ginny manages to show us the full range of Lillian’s personality and life experience.  There is one breathtaking scene in particular in which Lillian’s current harshness and frailty fall away for the moment and she is sublimely ageless and beautiful.  The healing in that scene makes me swoon again whenever I think of it.

My program lists Brian G. Hartz as dialect coach.  Ginny’s German-American accent, in particular, is consistent and sounds authentic to me.

Who Did What Well on the Design Team

R. Brian Noffke is the stage manager and lighting designer.  The lighting design includes some nice, soft spots that enhance the effectiveness of the more serious monologues.

Director Lori Raffel designed the sound, which includes some witty little musical enhancements to some of the more melodramatic scenes. 

Patricia Schiro-Long designed everyone’s just-right costumes.  The Shakespearean costumes, especially, are stunning.

The set was designed by Kurt Krauter and Lori Raffel, and decorated by Risa Krauter and Lori Raffel.   The props were provided by “cast and crew.”  There is a lovely suit of armor, and some nice touches in the form of several gilded accessories, the ghost of some “B” monogrammed wallpaper, the exact globe-shaped liquor holder that is referred to by one of the characters, a glowing fireplace, a painting of Eric Bryant as John Barrymore, and a rich, almost throne-like chair that was/is his favorite. 

My only quibble with this whole show is that another chair – the one in front of the sofa in Act Two – is so tall that depending on where you sit it either blocks the audience from seeing the actors that are sitting and talking on the window seat (if you sit house left) or it blocks the audience from seeing Andrew and Deirdre in their clench at the foot of the stairs (if you sit in the front row, house right.)  It is not a huge chair but the audience sits slightly below the stage and the floor is level, not raked, so it doesn’t take much.

But as I say, this is just a quibble and I only mention it because it is the only thing that was less than satisfying about this show.  If you do find your view blocked, don’t worry, it will only be the one time and it won’t last very long. 

Audience and Appeal Factors

“I Hate Hamlet” is a “must see” for theatre junkies, but it has appeal for a broader audience as well because we all, I think, struggle with the questions of “What is important to me?” and “What am I supposed to do with my life?”

I saw another production of this show back in 2008.  I couldn’t write about it then because I was judging it for the Encore Association of community theatres.  (It was presented by the Our Town Players in Franklin, Indiana.)  Carmel’s production is more deliciously “adult” than I remembered.  There is no nudity, explicit sex, gore, death, or profanity so I don’t think that it would offend or embarrass anyone in an all-adult group of theatre-goers.  However, there are a couple of well-filled, subtly sparkling codpieces that are tastefully but unmistakably displayed and one is referred to – okay, grabbed – in a frank and funny way.  Also, the characters flirt a lot and talk earnestly quite a bit about whether or not to have sex.  So, I would not recommend this for families with young children at all, and families with older children or young teens might feel embarrassed to see it together.

“I Hate Hamlet” is a contemporary story with a fairly contemporary setting (although the characters check a stack of printed newspapers for their reviews the morning after opening night) but I bet that fans of traditional Shakespearean theatre will appreciate this piece, too, simply because the playwright actually loves, rather than hates, “Hamlet.”

Box Office

There is a performance of the Carmel Community Players’ “I Hate Hamlet” tonight at 8pm and tomorrow afternoon (Sunday, April 10, 2011.)  For more information and to make a reservation, please visit www.carmelplayers.org or call the box office at 317-815-9387.

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

P.S. – Follow me (@IndyTheatre) and/or the topic #indystage on Twitter.com.  I never tweet during a show (and I beg you not to take your phone out during a show either, for any reason, because light is as distracting as noise!) but I often tweet first impressions during intermission or immediately after a show.

2 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “I Hate Hamlet” by the Carmel Community Players”

  1. I too have seen this played as it is intended to be played to a more mature audience. It was performed at the Little Nashville Theatre. It is a blast. Our director decided to play to a wider audience. It is meant to be lusty. I sure wish I could have seen this production. I’ve read great things about it. Thanks for your review. I’m sure Eric was wonderful as John Barrymore. I became fascinated with John B. while we were doing this show in Franklin, purchased Good Night, Sweet Prince and another biography, and even a still of him in a Shakespearean role! I love all of the Barrymores.

  2. Hi, Debbie – You’re welcome for this review. Thank you for leaving this interesting comment about the Franklin production and the Nashville production.

    I know what you mean about the Barrymores. I just may have to read more about them myself!

Leave a Reply