Friday, February 3, 2023

By John Baggett

It’s a brand new year and the Tyler Civic Theatre is continuing its 68th season by taking on The Bard, sort of, with the comedy, “I Hate Hamlet.”

The play follows Andrew (Christopher Fisher), an actor whose popular TV show has just been cancelled.   He decided to leave Los Angeles for New York to try something new. That something new, thanks to his agent, Lillian (Tana Switsky), involves doing Shakespeare in the Park, but to his chagrin he must perform the role he wants to perform the least – Hamlet. He’s also not thrilled that his real estate agent, Felicia (Kaylee Nagel), has convinced him to move into an old apartment once owned by late actor John Barrymore.

While moving in, Lillian and Andrew’s girlfriend, Deirdre (Melody McNatt), shows up. Andrew has been keeping the “Hamlet” gig a secret from Deirdre because he’s not excited about it, and he knows she’ll be overly excited about it. Lillian drops the news for him, and his lady is naturally ecstatic. Felicia confesses that she can talk to spirits, mostly her mother, and suggest that maybe they should contact the other side to get some advice from the late actor. Despite his refusal, Andrew and company conduct a séance in which Felicia asks her mother to find Barrymore. In the middle of the ritual, Andrew flips and yells that he hates “Hamlet.” This actually summons John Barrymore (Brad Echols) into his old apartment, but only Andrew can see him.

Stressed out from the upcoming show and trying to consummate his relationship with Dierdre, who seems to be saving herself for her future husband and/or Shakespeare, the last thing Andrew needs is a ghost in his apartment, especially Barrymore. However, Barrymore confesses that, as per tradition, he cannot leave the dwelling. As per this tradition, a long dead actor famous for playing Hamlet will appear to an actor in need who is about to take on the role, and he can’t leave until the actor actually plays the character. Now, while standing at the crossroads between taking on the challenge of Shakespeare or taking an easy, high paying network TV show produced by his friend Gary (Jacob Gillard), Andrew must decide if he should do what is right or what is easy.

“I Hate Hamlet” was written by Paul Rudnik, best known for the play, “Jeffrey,” which was later turned into a film, as well as the screenplays for “Addams Family Values,” “In & Out,” and the remake of “The Stepford Wives.” The Civic Theatre production is being directed by Amanda Spangler, who previously directed a production of “Perfect Wedding.” On her second comedy as director, Spangler found another great piece of material to bring to the Civic Theatre stage and assembled a cast that brings laughs a plenty.

Fisher, in his third show for TCT, manages to balance the comedic chops he displayed in “The Little Mermaid” with the ability to take on a leading role, like he did in “The Great Gatsby.” His comedic timing is great and displayed some rather impressive fencing skills as well. Echols, who I hate to admit I missed as Javert in “Les Miserables,” is delightful as Barrymore. He is funny, poignant, and really captures the spirit of an old school Hollywood actor.

Rounding out the cast, McNatt is delightful as Dierdre and I hope to see her in more performances down the road. She has a gift for comedy, but I’d also like to see her handle some serious material as well. Gillard, in his TCT debut, is fantastic, capturing a scummy Hollywood producer by way of southern good ol’ boy. He is the closest thing this play has to a human antagonist, and he was excellent. As Felicia, Nagel was great, almost channeling Fran Drescher (in a good way), earning as many laughs as she can get. Switsky, who was great as Goose in “Charlotte’s Web,” shines as Andrew’s agent, who gets to be both funny and serious in this role and she brought the nice sense of balance when needed.

“I Hate Hamlet” is another wonderful show for Tyler Civic Theatre. For a comedy with a smaller cast, it has the size and scope of a larger production, and enough great, witty lines that it may be necessary to see it twice. It’s a fun, funny show that you should absolutely check out.

“I Hate Hamlet” opened on January 6 and runs through January 15.

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