KAIMUKI—I Hate Hamlet is a welcome change of pace from Diamond Head Theatre’s roster of musicals, a comedy that reveals the depth and breadth of our local talent. Although it may be an unfamiliar title—the play dates to 1991 and its initial Broadway run was marked by scandal—the playwright, Paul Rudnick was the genius behind Jeffrey, Addams Family Values, and The Stepford Wives.
Although frequent references are made to the Shakespeare masterpiece from which it takes its title, the play is more about coming of age in show business, both its challenges and its absurdities. You need not have paid close attention to Hamlet in your high school English class to enjoy the jokes.
The plot is fairly straightforward. A TV actor named Andrew Rally moves to New York in an effort to revitalize his career after his hit series has been canceled and he’s relegated to co-starring with hand puppets in a snack food commercials. Miraculously, he lands the role of Hamlet in Central Park’s famous annual Shakespeare event. Andrew fears that the prestigious role is out of his league and is threatening to quit, but both his girlfriend, an aspiring thespian herself, and his chain-smoking agent insist he see it through.
Andrew’s wacky New York real estate agent, played by the delightful Ann Brandman, informs the actor that his new apartment belonged to legendary actor John Barrymore and insists that this is a sign that he is destined for greatness. She then hatches the crazy plan of holding a seance to summon Barrymore’s spirit, so that Andrew can learn from the best. Of course, there is no sign of Barrymore’s ghost and it is assumed the seance failed. Only later, when he finds himself alone and desperately frustrated, shouting “I hate Hamlet!” does Barrymore’s spirit arrive.
It turns out Barrymore’s ghost will not rest until Andrew steps up to the tragic role of Hamlet, which was one of Barrymore’s greatest acting triumphs. In the ensuing entertaining scenes, we learn about Barrymore’s notorious escapades with women and booze, as well as the trials he faced as an actor. Paul Mitri executes the role brilliantly with perfect comedic timing, a cultivated arrogance, and frequent swigs of champagne. (In its final week, the role will be played by Rob Duval, who also directs the play.)
Everything in New York, from his creaky brownstone apartment to his transition into theatrical work, proves to be a radical departure from Andrew’s previous life in L.A. His situation is further complicated by the fact that his girlfriend is a 29-year-old virgin who is holding out for the perfect man (who may or may not be Andrew). Lacey Perrine Chu simply nails the role of the passionately prudish Deidre.
When Andrew’s L.A. producer friend, Gary (played by the hilarious Walt Gaines), arrives in town to pitch his next idea for a hit, he is forced to make a choice between taking the easy road to fame and fortune or to challenge himself as an artist. Reb Beau Allen shines in his portrayal of the angst-ridden, sexually frustrated, and insecure protagonist but the character he plays apparently is never able to perfect his performance of Hamlet.
What makes the play a success is the richness of the characters, the quality of the acting, and the consistently great comic delivery. There are also fun plot twists, such as when we learn that Andrew’s agent, Lillian, played by the talented Lisa Konove, had been one of Barrymore’s sexual conquests; their slow dance scene is the most serious moment of the play and also one of the best.
I Hate Hamlet has an absurd premise, to be sure, but it is a witty commentary on the enduring role of theater and the classical art of acting in the face of television’s dominance.
On the whole, this is high quality theater. Even the production, with its beautiful sets depicting Andrew’s brownstone and the special effects announcing the arrival of Barrymore’s ghost, is first rate. And with tickets at DHT starting at just $12, it is also one of the best bargains in town.
Diamond Head Theatre is located at 520 Makapuu Avenue. The show runs through February 13. For more information call (808) 733-0274 or visit www.diamondheadtheatre.com.