To be or not to be hilarious: This 'Hamlet' gets the answer right @

April 16, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

Paul Rudnick's "I Hate Hamlet" is so chock full of theatrical jokes, one-liners and intentionally hammy acting that, especially for a non-professional cast, it must be difficult not to break out laughing right along with the audience.

Compounding that difficulty is the challenge of finding an actor who can deliver an acceptable impersonation of the great John Barrymore and doesn't look ridiculous in tights.

At the Vagabond Players, director Steve Goldklang has found that actor in accomplished local thespian, Mark E. Campion. Dressed in full Hamlet regalia -- from tights to cape -- Campion makes his entrance heralded by a campy little puff of stage smoke, and he smirks convincingly where lesser mortals would probably have to suppress a giggle.

Actually, Campion's character is no mere mortal; he's a ghost, or, as he introduces himself: "John Barrymore. Actor. Legend. Seducer. Corpse." With the help of a hokey seance, he's summoned to earth, to his former apartment, to be exact, to serve as acting coach for its current resident -- a young television star named Andrew Rally who's been cast as the lead in a Central Park production of "Hamlet."

Goldklang has also found a talented actor to play Andrew. Bob Tull brings a Michael J. Fox-like, puppy-dog cuteness to the role, literally sitting at the master's feet at one point. The result is the kind of comic desperation that would probably ensue from an episode of "Family Ties" in which Alex P. Keaton found himself forced to portray the melancholy Dane.

But it's not just the leads who are well-cast. Linda Stein is a hoot as Andrew's flamboyant, psychic real estate broker. As his agent, Margery Germaine is a blend of firmness and sweetness -- in the maternal sense toward her client, and in the amorous sense toward Barrymore, with whom she once had a fling.

As a friend of Andrew's who's trying to lure him back into television, L. K. Bloom is California incarnate. "When folks -- let's call 'em Hollywood -- when they hear that you're doing the greatest play in the English-speaking world, they're gonna know you're washed up!" he advises Andrew. And though Christine Nelson is adequately dewy-eyed as Andrew's hopelessly romantic, aging virgin girlfriend, she could stand to be even flightier; after all, this is a character who longs to be -- not just to play -- Ophelia.

"Who writes you?" Andrew demands of Barrymore after one of his more florid speeches. In this case, a very funny playwright, indeed. I have little doubt that the actors at the Vagabonds find the script just as hilarious as the audience does, but it's a measure of their craft that they never let on. The result is a delightfully comic valentine to the theater. Think of it as a heart-shaped ham -- honey-cured.

"I Hate Hamlet"

Where: Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway.

When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Through May 2.

Tickets: $8 and $9.

Call: (410) 563-9135.

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