Raleigh Little Theatre's riotous rendition of Paul Rudnick's hit backstage comedy I Hate Hamlet, directed by Rod Rich and starring Seth Blum and David McClutchey, is a must-see comedy. It will surely find its way onto some local critic's 10-best list for 2003. (Maybe more than one 10-best list.) It is clearly one of RLT'S all-time best shows, as a rare standing ovation on opening night (April 11) confirmed.
Set entirely in the gloriously Gothic Washington Square apartment in New York City once occupied by legendary American star of stage and screen and eminent Shakespearean actor John Barrymore (1882-1942), a.k.a. The Great Profile, I Hate Hamlet chronicles the epic crisis of confidence that ensues when Shakespeare-in-the-Park producers recruit Andrew Rally (Seth A. Blum), the somewhat nebbishy star of a recently cancelled television medical drama and myriad cheesy TV commercials, to star in an outdoors production of Hamlet. Knowing that his casting in the title role of Elizabethan dramatist William Shakespeare's epic tragedy is merely a gimmick to draw attention to the production and swell attendance, Rally flies from Los Angeles to New York, but almost immediately has serious second thoughts and nearly bolts before the ghost of John Barrymore (David McClutchey), dressed all in black as Hamlet, unexpectedly materializes to screw Rally's courage to a sticking place. (Yeah, yeah, I know that line is from Macbeth.)
Once one of America's foremost Shakespearean actors and widely recognized as the supreme Hamlet of his generation, the black-clad Barrymore — in his youthful and handsome prime — returns from beyond the grave to initiate Rally into some cosmic Order of Hamlets. Under Barrymore's swashbuckling tutelage, Rally acquires the courage and skill with a sword and the gigantic codpiece — if not the acting chops — to honor his commitment to play Hamlet.
A truly gifted and resourceful comic actor, Seth Blum has never been funnier than he is as Andrew Rally, enduring that middling TV star's long dark night of the soul with the help of a dashing and playful and somewhat intoxicated ghost. Riddled with self-doubt, Rally provides the perfect foil for the supremely self-confident Barrymore; and David McClutchey is the perfect Barrymore to play opposite Seth Blum. Tall, thin, and athletic, the charismatic McClutchey also brings the good looks of a matinee idol and considerable panache to the part. They serve him — and the audience — well. McClutchey is marvelous, simply marvelous, as Barrymore.
RLT's outstanding production of I Hate Hamlet also boasts an exceptional supporting cast. Shawna Glad is hilarious as New York real-estate broker and good-time girl Felicia Dantine. Patsy Clarke is highly amusing as Rally's imperious agent, Lillian Troy, who once had a fling with Barrymore.
Seth's wife, Rebecca C. Blum, is a scream as Andrew's ambitious actress-girlfriend, Dierdre McDavey. Dierdre is a 29-year-old virgin and a real space cadet who gets herself cast in Hamlet — in a small role that she keeps trying to enlarge. And Scott Nagel is a hoot as Andrew's extremely mellow friend and business associate, Los Angeles TV writer-producer-director Gary Peter Lefkowitz, who wants Rally to bail out of Hamlet and return to L.A. to film the pilot for a fatuous new situation comedy.
The magnificent Gothic set by Roger Bridges has gargoyles aplenty glowering at the on-stage monkey business. Lighting designer Andy Parks, special-effects designer Rick Young, and fight choreographer Chris Beaulieu work overtime to create just the right atmosphere for a place where things that normally go bump in the night, magically materialize in the living room and drink all your liquor while giving acting and fencing lessons and dating advice to the current inhabitant.
Costume designer Sue Brace, sound designer Rick LaBach, and dance choreographer Nancy Rich also do an exceptional job of enhancing the look and sound of I Hate Hamlet.
RLT guest director Rod Rich, who has delighted so many audiences with his madcap productions for Actors Comedy Lab, superbly orchestrates the supernatural shenanigans that make I Hate Hamlet such a crowd-pleaser. I Hate Hamlet is Rod Rich at his best. And that's about as good as it gets.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents I Hate Hamlet Wednesday-Saturday, April 16-19 and 23-26, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 27, at 3 p.m. in RLT's Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, NC. $13 Wednesday, $17 Thursday/Sunday, and $19 Friday-Saturdays. 919/821-3111. http://raleighlittletheatre.org/hamlet.htm [inactive 7/1/03].