I enjoy the theater, and by that I mean live theater with real people on a real stage in real time. Even the special effects are real. I haven't been to the theater in quite a while, so when Main Lady suggested we go take in a play at The Toledo Repertoire Theatre (16 10th Street, Toledo, OH 43604 (419) 243-9277) I was up for it. I haven't been to The Rep in years and I'd forgotten most of what I knew about the place.
The play I saw is I Hate Hamlet by Paul Rudnick - see also I Hit Hamlet - Behind the scenes at a Broadway fiasco by Paul Rudnick December 24, 2007 if you're insatiably curious. Keep reading to get my opinion, then decide for yourself if you'd like to attend or stay home in the comfort of your living room with a good bottle of bourbon.
In twenty-five words or less, the play is a comedy. It's a two act story about a successful television actor from Los Angeles who has just had his show canceled and who returns to New York. Our Hero is offered a job playing Hamlet with Shakespeare in the park, a role for which he is ill-suited. His other troubles include an overbearing best friend, a girl friend who refuses to have sex with him and a real dump of an apartment that he rented sight unseen. The topper is that the apartment is haunted - by none other than John Barrymore, who appears in full Elizabethan drag and teaches the unhappy thespian wanna-be to play Hamlet and to get his girlfriend to perform in her primary office.
I didn't like the play. The plot is thin and leaves me asking myself why anyone would leave California, which is where the work is, for New York where unemployment is practically guaranteed. The dialog is good with plenty of one liners, but the plot isn't. Moreover, the lead isn't believable and the rest of the cast is sort of there; some of the scenes remind me more of commercial interruptions than part of the play. While this could be overcome, it wasn't. I blame the director for this, but the cast didn't help much either.
Here's the cast:
Andrew Rally played by John DuVall (lead)
John Barrymore played by Larry Farley (supporting actor)
Deirdre McDavey played by Marissa Rex (Andrew's Girlfriend)
Lillian Troy played by Pat Strobl (Andrew Rally's agent)
Gary Peter Lefkowitz played by Nick Morgan (Andrew's pal, write-producer-director)
Felicia Dantine played by Samanthia Rousos (real estate agent)
Directed by Barbara Barkan
John DuVall (Andrew Rally) plays the lead, and his very first problem is that he doesn't look the part. The character is from L.A. and is successful, but his costume does not reflect that. He dresses in jeans and a nondescript tee shirt or something. Worse, his acting matches the costume. The man has no energy, no culture, no savoir-faire. He seems uncertain about just what it is he's supposed to be doing. He leans heavily on the rest of the cast, but the only one able to support him is Larry Farley (John Barrymore). Case in point, his virginal girlfriend allows him to measure his length on the floor several times.
Marissa Rex (Deirdre McDavey, Andrew's Girlfriend). Marissa has talent and experience, but she suffers from bad directing. Her character is supposed to be a high and somewhat flighty 28 year old virgin who can't seem to surrender to her boyfriend Andrew's tentative advances. Flighty is one thing, but Deirdre is so far over the top that she's landed on the other side with an audible sprong! and bounced into detox. I blame director Barbara Barkan for this one. Marissa Rex is talented, looks and dresses the part, and with anything resembling competent direction could have turned in a stellar performance. As it is, she's mostly annoying and I spent most of my time waiting for her to exit so we could get back to the play.
Pat Strobl (Lillian Troy, Andrew Rally's agent) and Samanthia Rousos (Felicia Dantine, real estate agent) do what they're supposed to do. They stay safely in the background until called upon to perform, at which time they rise to the occasion and turn in credible performances, although I think Samanthia could have done a better job with her psychic medium-ship act (she stirs up the ghost of Barrymore). Again, Barkan leaves her over-the-top-and-out-of-the-park mark on an otherwise credible performance.
Nick Morgan (Gary Peter Lefkowitz, Andrew's pal, write-producer-director) plays his part like a yo-yo. Some parts are good, a few segments are great and the rest of it is white noise. This is due to the fact that Morgan is desperately trying to get DuVall to energize and start playing his part. At one point I almost expected Morgan to reach out, shake DuVall and scream "Snap out of it!" He didn't, but maybe he should have. Nick Morgan has a solid hold on his part, he understands what is supposed to happen, but when it doesn't he isn't able to fix it. Too bad, because I like Morgan and I think with a little coaching and some solid directing he could be really, really good.
That brings me to Larry Farley (John Barrymore, supporting actor). If it were not for Mr. Farley, the play would be a train wreck. Every time the man was on stage and active, he managed to pull the whole thing together, and he did it without apparent effort. He successfully managed to prop up John DuVall constantly, prevent Marissa from spinning into orbit and direct the audience's attention to the other actors at the proper time - and timing is everything. He saved the entire play, and I give him a tip of my best fedora and a hoist of the Sunday morning bourbon glass. Here's to you, Sir. Long life and a merry one!
If you decide to go and see the play, be forewarned. With the exception of Larry Farley, the cast generally doesn't project their voices well enough to be clearly heard in the rear of the theater - and The Toledo Rep is a small theater. Since a lot of the comedy relies on dialog, this could be a real problem if you sit in the back half of the theater. Also, the web site needs work. We bought our tickets from the web site and the interface leaves a lot to be desired.
If it were not for Larry Farley, I'd give the play a 4. Farley's efforts bring the score up to a solid 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. While I wouldn't pass up a Broadway play to see I Hate Hamlet, I'd certainly recommend it to anyone with a yen for a nice break from the movies and the rudeness of the cell phones, casual conversation and noisy snot noses that are the hallmark of a night at the movies. You'll enjoy this much more than a mere film.