Theatre Review: “I Hate Hamlet” and Vaudeville Revue are delightful and distracting

February 15, 2010


So . . . the current playbill at The Great American Melodrama in Oceano is stuffed to overflowing with something we all need more of in the midst of economic, political and personal woes: diversion. It is truly not possible to attend to dire thoughts of your mortgage or your mother-in-law when you are being entertained nonstop by this professional troupe of actors/singers/dancers/comedians.

Paul Rudnick’s farce, I Hate Hamlet, opens the evening’s entertainment with a set dressed in a medieval Excalibur-Las Vegas sort of way. This is the New York apartment once owned by the late great American actor John Barrymore (who turns up as a ghost dressed in a medieval Excalibur-Las Vegas sort of way). Played by Billy Breed with all the bravado of, well, John Barrymore, this ghost of all Hamlets past turns up to mentor the apartment’s latest occupant, TV-turned-stage actor Andrew Rally (a very fine George Walker), who isn’t sure he can make the grade as the latest Prince of Denmark.

As Rally’s woes unfold, both to Barrymore’s ghost and a host of other characters (including Melodrama veterans Megan C.C. Walker, Jacqueline Hildebrand and Bree Murphy), he comes to find a modicum of confidence in his decision to play the Bard’s most complex character. Along the way director Erik Stein treats the audience to some skillfully-directed bits of physical comedy and even an unexpected round of well-executed, extended swordplay (choreographed by Walker).

And the words! Can these actors milk a good line for all it’s worth? Indeed they can, getting all the laughs some of the play’s juiciest tidbits deserve. At one point Hollywood producer Gary Lefkowitz (Chuck McLane), trying to convince Rally of the folly of his New York stage aspirations, observes, “No sex, Shakespeare – it’s like high school!”

There’s even something for those who think that movie theatres are the only place to see special effects these days. Lighting the fireplace from across the room, Barrymore admonishes Rally, “I’m a ghost, Andrew, not a special effect.”  Indeed, the scenic and lighting design by Gary Adams deserves special mention, as does the scenic art by Steven Taylor.

I Hate Hamlet comes to a finish with Barrymore overseeing a flourish of properly-executed bows that acknowledge (and artfully encourage!) audience applause. But the end of the play is not the end of the evening’s hearty – and heartfelt – entertainment. It seems to be the goal of The Great American Melodrama to satisfy its audiences, then give them even more. Following the second intermission is one of the Melodrama’s most modern – and inventive – vaudeville revues to date. The revue’s opening number (unfortunately not the show’s strongest bit) sets the stage for a fast-paced look at how technology has changed our lives – poking fun at everything from cell phones to talking (and backtalking) GPS devices.

Two hilarious bits of business are absolutely not to be missed: an update of Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene using Semaphore flags, and a retelling of West Side Story (as Web Site Story) with the conflict between Macs and PCs instead of Sharks and Jets. Director Eric Hoit, musical director Jordan Richardson and co-choreographer Michael Jenkinson have created a diversion of megacode proportions for the audience’s enjoyment.

With the constant flurry of activity and the ease in which these players transition from play to revue and from one bit to the next, at the end of the evening it’s hard to believe there are only six actors altogether (well, seven on a recent night when Bree Murphy was out for the evening and had to be replaced by two other actors who filled in without a hitch).

All in all, the only chances you get to stop laughing and clapping and enjoying yourself are during the evening’s two intermissions, and even then the popcorn, pretzels and pitchers of beer available from the snack bar’s bill of fare offer additional delectable distractions.

In the “Behind the Scenes” department, Jim Tanner deserves high praise for his costume and wig designs, which serve I Hate Hamlet’s many conceits to perfection.

There’s still time to catch the show, which runs through March 7. Visit the CalCoastNews Community Event Calendar for details.