I Hate Hamlet – Review by Tom Holehan

“I Hate Hamlet”, Paul Rudnick’s 1991 comedy, is the current offering at the Music Theatre of Connecticut in Norwalk. Never considered a classic Broadway comedy (it ran for 88 performances), this pleasant but rarely hilarious production will no doubt still please post-pandemic audiences anxious for any opportunity to chuckle.

Andrew Rally (Constantine Pappas), a popular TV actor whose series has just been canceled, has moved to New York City where he’s been offered the lead in “Hamlet” at Shakespeare in the Park. No matter that he hates the play, his virginal girlfriend Deirdre (Elena Ramos Pascullo) loves it and his real estate agent, Felicia (Liliane Klein,) has found him a medieval duplex once owned by the legendary actor, John Barrymore. Through a handy contrivance, the agent is also a bit of a psychic and manages to conjure up the ghost of Barrymore (a lively Dan O’Driscoll) who ultimately visits Andrew and shows him the ropes about playing the melancholy Dane.

Director Kevin Connors has some luck with his leading players here. Pappas gives an earnest and likable performance and is a good enough actor to make you wish he had better material. His chemistry with Driscoll, in the flamboyant, scene-stealing role of Barrymore, mostly works and an extended sword fight between the men (choreographed by Driscoll) is really quite impressive. Less successful are the play’s four supporting actors who divide equally into two categories: those who overact and those who underact. In the latter, both Pascullo and Jo Ann Parady (as Andrew’s elderly agent) are far too subtle and passive in their roles and are also hampered by generally low volume. No such problem with Klein whose brash real estate agent is matched in volume and size by Robert Anthony Jones playing Andrew’s crass Hollywood pal to the zenith. There is lots of energy on display here, but the continuous shouting from both soon becomes wearying.

Sean Sanford’s scenic design does not begin to suggest the medieval duplex and Gothic retreat that Barrymore once called home. The design does improve in act two with the addition of some nicely appointed furniture pieces, but the apartment’s staircase remains lackluster and it was never made clear what the upstage doorway led to. Was it to the rooftop or a bedroom or both? RJ Romeo’s lighting design seemed off at the show I caught with a few missed cues and while Will Atkin’s sound had its moments it often seemed overused competing with the dialogue at times. Diane Vanderkroef, however, hit all the right notes with her costuming especially the formal wear selected for the cast as they celebrate Andrew’s opening night.

“I Hate Hamlet” is a modest diversion that may make some theatregoers wish they were seeing Shakespeare’s classic instead.

“I Hate Hamlet” continues at the Music Theatre of Connecticut, 509 Westport Avenue in Norwalk through February 19. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.454.3883 or visit: musictheatreofct.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.