The cast and crew in Muskegon Civic Theatre’s production of I Hate Hamlet laughed out loud when they first read the script, and they’re betting theatergoers will too.
The comedy takes the stage in mid-February, so it’s a great way to escape cabin fever with a show that doesn’t require much deep thinking.
“It’s something you can sit back and relax and you don’t have to keep track of what’s going on. It will keep you entertained,” said actor Brian Reeds, cast as Andrew Rally, the character who hates Hamlet.
With his career in limbo, Rally, a successful television actor, relocates from California to New York City and is offered a role he doesn’t really want: The opportunity to play Hamlet in Central Park.
It just so happens he also rents a gothic apartment formerly occupied by the late, great actor John Barrymore. When Rally’s theatrical agent visits him, she recalls her brief romance with Barrymore many years ago in the same apartment.
The drunken ghost of the famous larger-than-life actor, full of ego and Shakespearean theatrics, then appears. The comedy unfolds as Rally’s girlfriend, his agent and Barrymore’s ghost press him to play the part, while his hot-shot television producer friend from Los Angeles poo-poos the theater and tries to lure him back with a lucrative role in a new TV sitcom.
The laughs ensue as Rally wrestles with his conscience, Barrymore, his sword, and the fact he fails as Hamlet in Central Park.
“As I read it, I was just laughing out loud. That’s a clue that there’s something to it,” said Director Jim Query. “Paul Rudnick is a wonderful playwright. It has six very distinct characters and their contrast and chemistry between each other just makes for a wonderful story.”
Of course, a good comedy needs some relationship snafus and sexual tension. Rally’s new New York City girlfriend is rich, romantic and overjoyed about him playing Hamlet, but clinging to her virginity.
“My character pokes fun of himself a lot,” Reeds said. “He’s not too full of himself and has troubles most normal theater people do. He also has a girlfriend waiting for the perfectly wonderful hero, so there’s a lot of stuff that goes along with that.”
Barrymore’s ghost also has a vested interested in getting him to take the job so he can go back to where he came from. The contrast between the two main characters leads to a few mishaps and power struggles as they duel over women, success and the apartment.
Dr. Rem Sprague, Mercy Health Partners’ chief medical officer, enjoys acting as a hobby and signed on for the role of Barrymore. Despite the comedic thread, the play is also about relationships and other life lessons.
“He comes back to coach young Hamlet, teaching him about love and life in general, and the theater and arts,” he said. “Andrew is a television actor and stage acting is a very different concept. For Barrymore, that’s true acting. He sold himself out and he doesn’t want to see Andrew sell himself out too.”