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JCU’s ‘Hamlet’ hard to hate

October 28th, 2010

On his deathbed, actor John Barrymore reportedly said, “Die? I should say not, dear fellow.”

No, Barrymore would not allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.

Memorable? Yes. Conventional? Hardly.

That was the life of John Barrymore in a nutshell. Even more so, the quote perfectly describes John Carroll’s production of “I Hate Hamlet.”

The idea that earning money and fame, while conventional, barely scratches the surface of human happiness is the main theme of the play.

With that said, the production staff managed to capture the original wittiness and acerbic nature of Paul Rudnick’s comedy. The tongue-in-cheek look at theater and its place in today’s entertainment world is a relevant topic in a society where electronic media is replacing the old arts.

Directed by Martin Friedman, the play opens in 1995 in actor Andrew Rally’s apartment in Greenwich Village. Rally had recently moved from Los Angeles with his girlfriend Deirdre after the cancellation of his TV show “L.A. Medical.”

In an effort to gain professional help for his upcoming role as “Hamlet,” Rally takes up the advice of his real estate broker Felicia and brings Barrymore back from the spiritual realm through a séance.

The ensuing battle of wits defines the play, as Barrymore and Rally battle each other over the choice of playing Hamlet or a new television pilot.

While the play had its flaws and production problems, it is defined by the impeccable performance of its two leads, junior Dan Simpson and sophomore Brendan Hancock. Simpson delivers what may turn out to be his signature performance as deceased actor John Barrymore. He embodies the complex and chauvinistic nature of Barrymore perfectly, from his morning drinking down to the tights he wore in Hamlet.

The natural chemistry on stage between Simpson and Hancock as Rally carries the play through the various sound and acting issues involved with the play.

Unrealistic sound effects threaten the play in the beginning scenes, but the dueling monologues of Rally and Barrymore make the audience forget about the early hiccups.

Their chemistry culminates in a perfectly choreographed and action-packed sword fighting scene where much is revealed about both characters. The performances of Simpson and Hancock will certainly leave people talking when they leave the theater.

Freshmen Julia Blanchard and Nicole Tischler also shine as Felicia Dantine and Lillian Troy, respectively.

Despite their collective youth, both show considerable poise in their first show. Sophomore Jackie Orchard portrayed Rally’s girlfriend Deirdre and junior Justin Hawkins played the comic relief as Andrew’s friend Gary.

Set designer Keith Nagy and the production crew manage to recreate perfectly an aging apartment in Greenwich Village that Rally restored to look just like when Barrymore lived there.

The lighting team was spot on with its work, especially when tasked with giving Barrymore the power to change the lighting with a snap of his finger.

Although the first act seemed slow and slightly overacted, the supporting cast pulled together for a rousing second act highlighted by emotional monologues and improved chemistry.

While the play has its problems and hiccups, the final product was well done with such a goofy script and standout performances. With all that said, “I Hate Hamlet” is completely worth the price of admission, without a doubt.