Jokes are running all over the place on little cat feet during Live Theatre Workshop’s production of “I Hate Hamlet” by Paul Rudnick. The playwright has a sly sense of humor steeped in pop culture references and the idiosyncrasies of a life lived in theater.
You could see “I Hate Hamlet” several times and still catch punch lines you missed the first couple of times. To the credit of director Howard Allen, he lets the laughs be themselves in these throwaway moments. There’s no “I’m telling a joke now” setup.
There’s just all this clever conversation by witty people so wrapped up in themselves they have too much ego to actually think someone else could be saying anything important.
We are told – since nobody in today’s age of cable TV has any idea – that the greatest Hamlet in 20th-century theater was played by John Barrymore.
Then we are reminded today’s TV acting stars are nothing but lower life forms, the equivalent of fast food compared to the sumptuous repast always found on the legitimate stage. Particularly when “Hamlet” was being performed.
At LTW we have the eminent Richard Ivey playing with conviction a larger-than-life John Barrymore. Rather than portraying Barrymore as the hammiest of blow-hard alcoholics – sort of like W.C. Fields with a sword – Ivey creates an athletic actor of great personal magnetism.
In marked and delightful contrast is Stephen Frankenfield as Andrew Rally, a moderately famous TV actor invited to play Hamlet for New York’s famous Shakespeare in the Park series.
Andrew’s personality is insecure enough to be Hamlet, but he has no onstage presence whatso- ever. On the little screen, he can do OK playing a doctor in a hospital sitcom, but that’s about it. That’s why he hates Hamlet.
Rudnick the playwright also provides some comedy foils in the supporting characters of Gary the superficial TV agent (Eric Schumacher), Lillian who is Andrew’s personal manager (Maxine Gillespie), Felicia the psychic real estate broker (Kristi Loera) and of course Andrew’s smitten girlfriend Deirdre (Jodi Rankin), an insistent virgin who longs to play Ophelia.
As the flashy, quick- talking and clueless Gary, Schumacher easily steals most of his scenes. He also gets some of the most pointed one-liners. Such as when Gary tells Andrew, “Once they hear you’re doing the greatest play in the English language, they’ll know you’re washed up.”
The plot is pretty simple. Andrew’s most successful TV show has just been canceled, so he returns to New York. Now he’s about to rent the very Greenwich Village apartment where Barrymore lived back when he was the toast of New York for playing Hamlet.
Andrew may not care for the play, but Deidre, Lillian and Felicia want him to take the part. Gary shows up just in time to tell Andrew he’s got a deal for a new TV plot and a guarantee of five episodes. So the actor is happy to return to Los Angeles when the ghost of Barrymore appears to remind Andrew how, in the right hands, Shakespeare can have great aphrodisiacal powers.
That changes everything.
IF YOU GO
What: Live Theatre Workshop presents “I Hate Hamlet” by Paul Rudnick.
When: 7:30 Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 4
Where: 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.
Info: 327-4747, www.livetheatreworkshop.org