The most dominant thing about Kaleidoscope Theatre's production of Paul Rudnick's 1991 comedy "I Hate Hamlet," is the actor Thomas LaChiusa.
LaChiusa has the plum and juicy role of the ghost of John Barrymore. He comes back to haunt (plus give acting and life lessons to) young actor Andrew Rally.
As the play opens, Andrew (Keith A. Wharton) has moved to New York from Los Angeles, where he is already a successful TV actor. He's at a crossroads in his career; he's in the throes of accepting or fleeing from the ultimate actor's role - Hamlet!
Coincidentally, the apartment Andrew has rented, sight unseen, belonged to the world's greatest Hamlet, the legendary (and notorious) actor, lover and drinker John Barrymore. The apartment is still decked out in its medieval glory, suits of armor, spooky candelabrum and all. This element of the story is based on fact; Rudnick actually lived in Barrymore's apartment, where he wrote this play.
In the directorial hands of veteran actor Jeanne Cairns, there is much ado, sometimes about not much. She has a deft touch, with a tendency toward the slightly corny and old-fashioned. An ingenue doesn't just walk across the stage to her paramour's arms, she does that bouncy, stagy run on her toes.
The style works great with LaChiusa, whose challenge to play an alternately degenerate, womanizing, has-been and a proud, professional inspiration is met more than ably.
As Rally, Wharton is a charming enough actor. His performance and shtick could be dialed down and be even more charming. The role is a very cute one, with lots of room for growth.
At first, Rally is callow. While he has challenged himself by moving to New York, he's not sure what he wants, careerwise. He is certain that he wants sex from his sweet, virginal girlfriend Deirdre McDavey (Tara Potzler), who is holding out for her dream love. He's not, however, sure whether the money that comes from kissing a furry animal puppet in a TV commercial is reward enough.
Andrew's current dilemma has arisen because his agent, Lillian Troy (Pamela Snyder) submitted his name to Shakespeare in the Park to play the moody Dane, but he is not sure he's up to it. There are a few funny lines about the famous New York City free summer theater.
This is a fun production, well worth seeing. The first act moves along smartly. Scenes between LaChiusa, dressed as Hamlet - complete with anatomically enhanced tights - and Wharton, are the highlight. Swordplay, ghostly pranks and ultimately, brotherly, actorly redemption are achieved. The second act bogs down a bit toward the end, with the requisite resolution of everyone's dilemmas.
In supporting roles, Lona Geiser lays on a thick accent as Andrew's real estate broker and medium, Felicia Dantine (it comes out as a strongly nasal Deeeeeeantine), and Brian Bogdan gives an effective turn as Gary Peter Lefkowitz, the devil on Rally's other shoulder, urging him back to California, to riches and the kind of fame that he assumes everyone prefers.
"I Hate Hamlet"
Review: Three stars (out of out)
Comedy presented by Kaleidoscope Theatre Productions through Sept. 26 in the Lecture Hall Theatre at Medaille College, 18 Agassiz Circle. For information call 479-1587 or visit www.kaleidoscopetheatre productions.com.