I HATE HAMLET Comedy by Paul Rudnick. Directed by Michael Engler. Starring Nicol Williamson, Evan Handler. At the Walter Kerr Theatre.
`I HATE Hamlet" is a good-natured ghost comedy with its heart in the right place and its finger pressed firmly on the laugh button. Playwright Paul Rudnick imagines his haunted caper occurring in the one-time Greenwich Village home of John Barrymore, newly acquired by TV superstar Andrew Rally (Evan Handler). To the dismay of his Los Angeles pal, writer-producer-director Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Adam Arkin), Andrew is turning down millions in television money to perform Hamlet in Central Park.
After an impromptu seance has failed to raise Barrymore's shade, Andrew inadvertently achieves the feat. Amid lightning and thunderclaps, a huge silhouette appears, followed by the lively apparition of Barrymore himself, clad in Hamlet's "solemn black." He assures Andrew: "I'm a ghost, not a special effect."
The comedy revolves around whether the Great Profile will be able to transform Andrew into a passable Shakespearean player within six weeks of rehearsal. The author strews the plot with such familiar types and stereotypes as a psychic real estate agent (Caroline Aaron), Andrew's sweet and daffy girlfriend (Jane Adams), and his agent (a stylishly svelte Celeste Holm).
The cast works with a will under Michael Engler's direction. Mr. Williamson's Barrymore, the quintessence of histrionic panache, wins a round of applause for his crisp delivery of Hamlet's advice to the players. Mr. Handler clearly indicates the improbability of Andrew's success with the Bard while emphasizing the depth of his resolution, come what may. Meanwhile, the author's supply of funny lines keeps the Walter Kerr Theatre fairly rocking with laughter.
The posh production was designed by Tony Straiges (setting), Jane Greenwood (costumes), and Paul Gallo (lighting). B. H. Barry directed the strenuous incidental sword play.