For those of us who love live theatre, it is a rare
experience to see a performance one could begin to describe as
“perfect.” Sutter Street Theatre’s current show, Paul Rudnick’s “I Hate
Hamlet,” comes as close as anything I have seen in recent months.
Credit for the near perfection of this show rests
largely on the shoulders of director Blake Flores. Of course the
hilarious script by Rudnick deserves part of the praise, but without the
perfect cast the play might seem like a somewhat more literate Neil
Simon clone. This show is more than that.
The play’s hero is television actor Andrew Rally,
whose latest series has been cancelled. Moving to New York to experience
stage acting, he acquires an apartment once occupied by John Barrymore.
To the ecstatic delight of his determinedly virginal girlfriend, he has
landed the role of Hamlet in a Shakespeare-in-the Park production. But
Andrew is terrified of the role. If only Barrymore, one of the great
Hamlets, could give him some pointers.
Andrew’s real estate agent Felicia is a part-time
medium, and conducts a séance to recruit the actor, reaching her
deceased mother who treats the contact as an overdue phone call. Soon,
however, the ghost of Barrymore makes his appearance and says he cannot
return to the spirit world until Andrew, who is increasingly reluctant,
Presumably Flores, the director, was responsible for
casting. Anthony Raddigan, with his matinee-idol face, is perfect as the
reluctant Hamlet, but Rob Odehnal steals the show as the ghost of
Barrymore. Both actors never let the audience doubt they are the
characters they are portraying. And their practice duel which ends Act
One has been choreographed so effectively by Dian Hoel that it seems
spontaneous and almost life-threatening.
It would be hard to imagine a better Barrymore than
Odehnal. His costume, featuring an overstuffed red codpiece, and his
sexy nonchalance are what stage acting is all about—outlandish but
Vanessa Voetsch as the exuberant, slightly ditzy girl
friend, who keeps Andrew in a constant state of sexual tension, is
lively and charming. Daniel Jones, as Andrew’s television producer,
trying to lure him away from Hamlet (“algebra on stage”) and into a
lucrative television series about a high school teacher/superhero, is so
crass and ignorant (he can see Barrymore’s ghost because, Barrymore
says, it doesn’t matter) his crudity easily goes over-the-top. Lori
Ackerman’s sexually eager real estate agent/medium is delightful as
My favorite, after Odenhal, is Sutter Street regular
Hazel Johnson. As Andrew’s agent, elderly Lillian Troy recalls a brief
affair with Barrymore in this very apartment, and she has a love scene
with the ghost that that is a highlight of the production.
The set by Mike Jimena and costumes by Eileen Beaver
are perfect as always. But for me it is the casting of perfect actors
for their roles and the fluid direction of their movement on stage that
made this play, for me, the best thing I’ve seen yet in an outstanding
Sutter Street season.