A Haunting Makes For Hilarity In ‘I Hate Hamlet’

The concept, at least, of I Hate Hamlet is a refreshingly original one. After moving into the former home of deceased legendary actor John Barrymore, TV soap star Andrew Rally is resisting efforts by his girlfriend and agent to persuade him to take the title role of Hamlet in a Shakespeare In The Park production.

Then, an impromptu seance succeeds in bringing Barrymore back from the dead, at least for the moment, so that he, too, can, join in the chorus of those suggesting that Andrew should expand his horizons and guide him through preparing for the role. 

The first post-pandemic production by the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, I Hate Hamlet was presented at The Benjamin School in Palm Beach Gardens and with all-around excellent production values, including sophisticated scenic design by Michael Schweikardt and sound design that included sweeping new scoring by Fitz Patton. 

The play also boasted a set of relatively strong performances, with Broadway veteran Tom Hewitt’s stunning performance in the role of Barrymore the clear highlight not only of the cast but of the whole production. His booming voice, charismatic aura, and unshakeable stage presence conveyed all of Barrymore’s gravitas, which carried us through much of the play’s comedy as well as some of its more somber moments as the character recalled some painful regrets. 

Thus, the spirited spirit quickly wins the audience over despite Barrymore’s sleazier qualities. As far as the play’s protagonist, though, I’m not sure how much of Andew’s unaffectedness was an effect of the script itself and how much an effect of Alex Walton’s performance, but I couldn’t help but feeling as if he came off as a little too “above it all” to be sympathetic, which made it slightly hard for us to root for him and to thus to get engaged in his journey towards the stage. 

On the other hand, Patrick Halley seems to be more suited to his role as Gary, a skeezy producer whose unlikability is clearly the point. Rounding out the cast with similarly well-tuned performances were Natalie Cordone as feisty real estate agent Felicia, Jeanne Bennett as prim acting agent Lillian, and Liz Shivener as the sweet but slightly ditzy Deirdre. 

However, Andrew and Deirdre’s relationship does hit a few memorable comic beats, the show’s treatment of Deirdre as a character also felt like it skewed toward the problematic side of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope, with her naive attitude and sunny optimism being played for laughs instead of taken seriously by anyone. 

In the end, too, as interesting a scenario as I Hate Hamlet presents in its haunting and as fun as the gambit can occasionally be, a central conflict that boiled down to “Is Andrew to be or not to be a good Hamlet,” never felt like quite enough to hang an entire play on. 

Thus, despite the occasional good joke or witty exchange, the slow-moving stasis of the plot itself and the lack of true emotional stakes eventually grew wearying. In fact, the show may have hit its emotional high point in the reunion of Barrymore with Lillian, who’d had a fling with the actor when he was alive, rather than anything to do with its main character at all. 

Still, it’s a fun and funny ride, though, ironically, given the script’s clear disdain for television, I’m not sure if it was much funnier than the average TV sitcom. Throughout the course of the play, sword fights are had, soliloquies become seductions, and plenty more upbeat antics ensue, adding up to a dependably enjoyable if not incredible evening. If you’d like to catch this Shakespearean romp for yourself, you have only until this February 20th!

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