Let’s face it, folks. Not everyone loves Shakespeare. Not even all actors. Andrew Rally is one of them. In fact, where there’s a Will, there’s a way Andrew will find to avoid acting in one of those famously timeless plays. And for good reason. Shakespeare tests, to the fullest, an actor’s mettle, and Andrew is strictly a TV actor.
He has just ended a star turn in the hit series “L.A. Medical” when he is offered the title role of “Hamlet” in a Central Park free summer production. Sounds great, but after the Bard of Avon comes calling, the hot young star gets cold feet. He can’t decide whether to be or not to be the Prince of Denmark. Why push his luck by pushing his two-dimensional TV talent beyond its limits? After all, all’s well that ends well.
Then fate intervenes in the ghostly person of one of the stage’s greatest Hamlets, early 20th century acting legend John Barrymore, whose heaven-sent mission is to keep the “royal order of Hamlets” intact by convincing Andrew to take on the role. That’s when the fun commences.
Andrew is no more a real person, mind you, than John Barrymore is still alive. Portrayed with a winning blend of self-doubt and wide-eyed wonder by Keith Erik Brown, Andrew Rally is the principal character in playwright Paul Rudnick’s whip-smart send-up of show business, “I Hate Hamlet.”
The laugh-filled 90 minutes (no intermission) can be enjoyed through March 4 at Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (For ticket information: Lyndhurst.org; 914-631-4481.) This superb production of “I Hate Hamlet” is the handiwork of the always reliable M&M Performing Arts Company, operated by Westchester residents Melinda O’Brien and Michael Muldoon. The husband-and-wife team are triple-threat theater folk who act, direct and produce.
The entire play is performed in the Gothic mansion’s second-floor Grand Picture Gallery. The audience is seated, on comfortable chairs, horseshoe-like around the room’s perimeter. The actors move back and forth between the far side of the room and smack in the middle of the spectators, creating a fun theater-in-the-round effect. The actors never are farther than a few feet away, creating perfect sightlines, for an enjoyable, immersive experience—or, if you will, virtual reality in the flesh.
The museum-quality Lyndhurst space—walls adorned with classical artwork, high arched windows, a suit of armor—is ideal for the play’s setting, a Gothic brownstone in Greenwich Village that happens to be the former residence of Mr. Barrymore (grandfather of Drew, for you ancestry.com fans), he of “The Great Profile,” the larger-than-life acting chops and the love affair with booze and women—harboring an unquenchable thirst for both. It’s a case of art imitating life: “I Hate Hamlet” was created while the playwright himself lived in Mr. Barrymore’s former Greenwich Village residence.
Mr. Rudnick gets hilarious mileage from mocking the machinations of the entertainment industry, stripping bare the stark difference between fame (volatile mass appeal) and glory (the fulfillment of artistic triumph). As one character lays it on the line to Andrew, “What are you to be, artist or lunchbox?”, Andrew has to decide if the wealthy lifestyle and perks of a TV star are truly meaningful or merely ephemeral.
“I Hate Hamlet” is carried aloft on the shoulders of Mr. Rudnick’s rapier-sharp wit and his giving the anguished Andrew several worthy foils to parry with and overcome: the spirit of John Barrymore (a suitably theatrical and physically well-cast Mikel Von Brodbeck); Andrew’s perpetually gushing and perpetually virginal girlfriend Deidre McDavey (an ingratiating Amy Frey); and staccato-talking, money-hungry Hollywood hustler Gary Peter Lefkowitz (the whirlwind, wisecracking Tal Aviezer).
Mr. Aviezer’s entrances are mini-explosions of hilarious self-aware shallowness. Gary’s a simple guy given readily to admitting that high-falutin’ drama is just not his thing: “When I go to the theater, most of the time I’m thinking, which one is my armrest?” Armed with arguably the biggest laugh lines, the crafty Mr. Aviezer makes the most of them without going overboard.
Mikel Von Brodbeck cuts a dashing figure as grandiloquent John Barrymore, speaking in the measured tones that are endemic to classically trained British thespians and fairly looming over an at-first easily intimidated Andrew, who soon proves a willing protege.
Rounding out the smartly assembled cast is charming Leslie F. Smithey as earthy Realtor Felicia Dantine, who has just sold Andrew the Barrymore apartment, and business-like Elizabeth Mialaret as Andrew’s Germanic agent Lillian Troy, who has her own colorful history with Barrymore. Both give fine-tuned performances that punch up every scene they inhabit.
The interplay among the principals never flags, maintaining a breezy pace that is a credit to director Melinda O’Brien, supported by stage managers Emmy Schwartz and Nan Weiss. Fight director (for a diverting bit of swordplay) is Haley Jane Rose.
Also at Lyndhurst through March 4 is an equally fast-paced, 90-minute adaptation of “Hamlet,” which then moves to the College of Mount St. Vincent in Riverdale on March 10-11. “Hamlet” is co-produced by M&M with Red Monkey Theater Group, which is operated by Tal Aviezer, who directs and stars in the play. “Hamlet” also features Melinda O’Brien and Mikel Von Brodbeck, along with Kate Berg, Germainne LeBron, Nick Leshi, Lawrence J. Reina and Gregg Shults, with stage management by Rachel Tamarin. Tickets are available through lyndhurst.org or redmonkeytheater.org.
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at email@example.com or 914-275-6887.