I HATE HAMLET (Montgomery): Paul Rudnick knows a hawk from a handsaw

Excerpted by kind permission from NealsPaper.com

Leonard Haas in I HATE HAMLET at Montgomery Theater. Photo by Angela McMichael.
Leonard Haas in I HATE HAMLET at Montgomery Theater. Photo by Angela McMichael.

We need to start a Paul Rudnick fund. Find some way of rerouting Paul Rudnick from whatever he might be doing and encouraging him to write a new comedy for every Broadway season. Rudnick is smart, clear-eyed comedian who plays by the old, and better, rules and structures a play that doesn’t pander or go for cheap laughs. Luckily, Tom Quinn has brought one of Rudnick’s most famous pieces, I HATE HAMLET to the Montgomery Theater in a first-rate production acted with just the right mixture of naturalness and high comic tone.

TV performer Andrew Rally (Jon Mulhearn) is known less for his acting prowess than for his ability to attract fans, build ratings, and have woman swoon. His agent (Cynthia Raff) has been booked to play five weeks of Hamlet in New York’s Central Park. His realtor has found him the ideal apartment, the one John Barrymore, the greatest Hamlet of his generation, occupied for the last decades of his life. Rumor is, the real estate mayven says, Barrymore’s ghost remains and sometimes materializes, usually when there’s a cocktail to filch.

I have seen about a dozen productions of I HATE HAMLET, including the legendary Broadway staging that induced Evan Handler to complain to Actors Equity against his flamboyant co-star Nicol Williamson for getting too violent in performance. Quinn’s ranks as one of the best. Several characters in I HATE HAMLET are larger than life, but they need to retain some human proportion to offset their size and eccentricity. Quinn’s cast keep them neatly in perspective while making sure they mine the gold Rudnick provides them.

Leonard C. Haas especially gifted at keeping to scale as the ghost of John Barrymore, returned by some kind of deceased actors’ code to coach a new performer in the most challenging role. Jon Mulhearn, who had a breakthrough of sorts as Wykowski, the brave and libidinous soldier in Biloxi Blues at People’s Light.Here, he shows what he can do as the leading man in a breezy comedy

The byplay between Haas and Mulhearn is funny, and at times touching. But Quinn’s production goes beyond Rudnick’s well placed gags to be a show about people facing crossroads situations. Even Rally’s hesitant girlfriend Diedre (played with wonderful insouciance by regional newcomer Abigall Grace Allwein) or the jaded realtor (played to whirlwind perfection by Jessica Bedford) are embarking on something new, be it sexuality or a marriage that can foster a good riddance to real estate.

Every actor is on his or her game. The design raises some questions however. The Barrymore apartment is well laid out, but why did set designer Guenter Wesch choose hot pink for its dominant hue? Costumer Angela Hoerner did an excellent job with everyone’s wardrobe, but where did she find the monstrosity of a flowered dress with a modest lace color for Deirdre’s first costume?

Jim Leiter’s lighting, which includes a blackout, works fine. Jim Bellomo’s swordplay is exciting and gave Haas and Mulhearn a chance to show their fencing mettle. (Shakespeare does tell us Hamlet is an excellent and practiced fencer.) Read the full review >> [Montgomery Theater, 124 Main Street, Souderton, PA] June 18-July 12, 2015; montgomerytheater.org.

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