BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act!
I Hate Hamlet
By Paul Rudnick
Directed by Melinda O’Brien
Presented by M&M Performing Arts Company
Through March 4, 2018 (weekends)
635 South Broadway (Route 9)
Tarrytown, New York 10591
Order Tickets on Website
Watch Interview with Tal Aviezer, Mikel Von Brodbeck, Melinda O’Brien
(From left) Tal Aviezer, Mikel Von Brodbeck, Melinda O’Brien are the actors, directors and producers behind I Hate Hamlet and Hamlet at Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown.
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 it 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.
A WHIP-SMART SEND-UP OF SHOW BUSINESS
Andrew is no more a real person, mind you, than John Barrymore still is 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.
VIRTUAL REALITY IN THE FLESH
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 then smack in the middle of the spectators, creating an engaging, theater-in-the-round effect. The players never are further than a few feet away, creating perfect sight-lines. It’s an altogether enjoyable, immersive experience –- or, if you will, virtual reality in the flesh.
The museum-quality Lyndhurst space – walls adorned with outsize classical artwork, high arched windows, a suit or armor — nicely mirrors 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 – indulging an unquenchable thirst for both. In a case of art imitating life: I Hate Hamlet was conceived 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. He gives 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).
‘WHICH ONE IS MY ARMREST?’
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.
SEE HAMLET WITH I HATE HAMLET
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 bout of swordplay) is Haley Jane Rose.
Also at Lyndhurst through Mar. 4 is an equally fast-paced, 90-minute adaptation of Hamlet, which then moves to the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale Mar. 10-11. Hamlet is co-produced by M&M with Red Monkey Theater Group, which is operated by Tal Aviezer, who adapted, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 914.275.6887.