“To be or not to be” is not really the question. This summer, it’s all about Hamlet himself: to hate or not to hate the famous prince of Denmark? That is the question theatergoers will be asking during the performance of I Hate Hamlet.
Raising the curtain at Asheville Community Theatre this week, this comedy by Paul Rudnick (and directed at ACT by Michael Lilly) examines the love/hate relationship many actors have with Shakespeare’s opus.
The play tells the story of Andrew Rally, a former star of a recently cancelled sitcom, who has a jobless summer stretching out ahead of him. Rally’s agent, eager to fill the actor’s off time, books an unusual role for the soap-opera star: the lead in Central Park’s summer production of Hamlet. The reaction of the play’s Bard-loving cast to Rally’s addition, however, is decidedly mixed.
They realize that Rally’s appearance in the show will sell tickets—after all, who wouldn’t want to see the soap-opera heartthrob play Hamlet?—yet his daytime-TV background doesn’t knock the socks off these seasoned Shakespearean actors. And then the story takes a turn for the bizarre, as Rally discovers his New York apartment was once occupied by Shakespearean acting legend John Barrymore. A successful séance sweeps Barrymore into the modern world, and before Rally can say “boo,” he finds himself coached on the finer points of Shakespearean acting by a ghost.
“Out of that,” Lilly says with a chuckle, “hilarity ensues.”
Taking on the role of Rally (who in turn is tackling the persona of the famed prince of Denmark) is Cody Magouirk. He comes to the production having played Hamlet two years ago with the Montford Park Players. When one considers how Andrew Rally brutally paraphrases Hamlet’s lines, Magouirk has a challenging role to slip into.
For example, consider Hamlet’s immortalized words: “Who would fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a weary life, but that the dread of something after death … .” And then there is Rally’s blithe interpretation: “So with all that garbage in the world, why not just stab yourself instead of dragging your fardels around.” With lines such as these, it’s no wonder that Lilly recalls telling Magouirk, “You’re probably going to need to unlearn everything you learned several summers ago.”
Shakespeare lovers may wonder what the Bard would think about a work entitled I Hate Hamlet. Without hesitation, Lilly and Magouirk agree that Shakespeare would heartily approve.
“I suspect he would probably think it’s very funny, if for no other reason than because of actors who, over the years, have tried to do Hamlet and failed,” Lilly says.
Magouirk thinks Shakespeare would give the production a thumbs up, but for an entirely different reason. “I Hate Hamlet is a tribute to two distinct acting styles,” Magouirk notes. “The classical, ‘larger than life’ attitude of John Barrymore was more of how you placed your body to show emotion to a large group of spectators. This is in comparison to the recent shift in the past 70 years or so that acting must be an internal thought process to give a sense of reality to situations.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise to discover that I Hate Hamlet truly is, as Lilly explains, “a tribute to actors.”
Die-hard Hamlet fans should come for some good laughs and an ironic twist of well-loved lines. As for those who don’t care for the Danish prince, the comedic I Hate Hamlet may be just the ticket toward a brand-new appreciation.
[Viktorija Krulikas is a freelance writer based in Weaverville.]
who: Asheville Community Theatre presents: I Hate Hamlet
what: A new take on Shakespeare’s masterwork
where: Asheville Community Theatre
when: Saturday, July 5, through Sunday, July 20 ($22. www.ashevilletheatre.org or 254-1320)