Get Thee To The Box For An Inspired Comedy

By John Quinn

Sometime around the turn of the 17th century, William Shakespeare created what is called the greatest work in the English language, "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark." He also created the most "insanely complex" challenge for an actor, the title role. Playing Hamlet is the Mt. Everest of the theater, and woe to the actor who dons the tunic and tights for no better reason than Edmund Hillary had to climb his mountain - "Because it's there."

Shakespeare the playwright was also Shakespeare the director, and in Act III, Scene 2 of "Hamlet," he lays out notes on proper acting technique. Directing The Box Theater production of Paul Rudnick's 1991 comedy, "I Hate Hamlet," Casey Hibbert paid attention to Will's admonitions. "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue ..."

Rudnick's play is full of rapid-fire dialogue and choice one-liners; Hibbert's pacing is spot on. "Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently ... you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness." The smooth operators in question are Mitchell Koory and Adrian Diffey, who avoid what could be over-the-top hamming for two sincere, grounded performances.

Young Andy Rally (Koory) is exploring his options after his TV drama, "LA Medical," is canceled. Although not armed with much theatrical training, he auditions and wins the title role in a "Shakespeare in Central Park" production of the masterpiece. By coincidence, his real estate agent places him in the same brownstone apartment that had been the home of John Barrymore, arguably the greatest Hamlet of his time. Andy doesn't think he's the classic hero type, and his outburst, "I HATE Hamlet!" summons Barrymore's (Diffey) ghost. "The Great Profile" must mentor the reluctant tyro before returning to his eternal rest.

Directors, though, want to have it both ways. Shakespeare continued, "Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor." The supporting cast members for "I Hate Hamlet" are not at all tame, but are always discreet.

They include Kelly Klopocinski as Andy's 29-year-old virgin girlfriend Deirdre, who has a thing for Shakespeare. Margaret Gilkes rocks as his worldly-wise, chain smoking booking agent, Lillian. Anne Damman plays Felicia, a flashy/trashy real estate broker whose Noo Yawk accent is like butta.

Television producer Gary Lefkowitz is Barrymore's foil, personifying the decline and fall of American culture. He's arrived in NYC to save Andrew from an obscure career in theater by pitching an utterly vapid but well-paying lead in a new series. Playwright Rudnick has some choice observations about the triumph of style over substance, so he's written Gary some of the funniest, most ironic lines in the script. That gives Eric Niece a chance to play the rude, crude superficial TV guy as "the very age and body of the time, his form and pressure," but he "o'erstep not the modesty of nature."

The first act of "I Hate Hamlet" ends in a duel, as Barrymore goads the timid, "I'm a liberal!" Andrew to stand up and be a hero. It's a transformative moment for the character; he discovers in the midst of mad swashbuckling he has the intestinal fortitude to take on the role of a lifetime. It is a dangerous scene; Nicol Williamson, who played John Barrymore in the Broadway production and was something of a loose cannon, injured Evan Handler onstage (Handler bowed out of the production). It would take a veteran fight coordinator to stage this show-stopping battle in all its glory, so the company has chosen less reckless but less theatrical choreography.

If you think Shakespeare is "the algebra of theater," it would behoove you to get thee to The Box and revel in Paul Rudnick's "Hamlet"-inspired comedy. It's guaranteed to lift the gloom of a Michigan January.

REVIEW:

'I Hate Hamlet'

The Box Theater, 90 Macomb Place, Mount Clemens. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday through Jan. 25, plus 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19. 2 hours, 15 minutes. $16-$18. 586-954-2677. http://www.theboxtheater.com

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