“I Hate Hamlet” answers eternal questions with comedy

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I Hate Hamlet (2)

There are many eternal questions we encounter over the course of our lives and perhaps none more important than “does art imitate life or does life imitate art?” Perhaps the only question more pretentious than that would come courtesy of Shakespeare’s famous line from Hamlet, “to be or not to be?” Now that’s a question for the ages, one that is almost answered in Pioneer Theatre Company’s hilarious yet thoughtful production of “I Hate Hamlet” which opened this past weekend.

Written by Paul Rudnick and set in the early 1990’s “I Hate Hamlet” was conceived in the same era of the popular television show “Seinfeld” and the play, much like the television series, is a show about nothing and yet at the same time everything. As Shakespeare would likely say there is much ado about nothing and despite a lean, somewhat predictable storyline, “I Hate Hamlet” delivers a heartwarming story about finding one’s place in the world with sharp witty humor that borders on acerbic to the delight of the audience.

“I Hate Hamlet” follows the trials and tribulations of Andrew Rally (Ben Rosenbaum) who is an out of work television actor trying to find himself in the theatre scene of New York City by trying to decide if he should play the lead role of Hamlet in a play that he proclaims to hate. Rally is quite literally trying to decide if he should be or not to be an actual artist or settle for the easy and lucrative paychecks of Hollywood. In an ironic twist of fate Rally unwittingly rents the former apartment of the late John Barrymore (J. Paul Boehmer) a classically trained actor who famously played Hamlet.

When the ghost of Barrymore is summoned to help convince Rally to take on the role of Hamlet that he doesn’t think he wants the play takes a crack at answering the age old question of whether art imitates life or does art imitate life. Hilarity ensues as Rally is forced to confront this question on a personal level of what is most important to him with the aid of his mostly invisible friend Barrymore who cheekily challenges his artistic manhood while engaging him in impromptu sword duels. Just when Barrymore seems to have Rally on the ropes the devil himself appears in the form of Rally’s foul mouthed producer Gary (Todd Cerveris) who tries to lure him from pursuing art to finding financial security in the form of television offer.

While it may be tempting to dismiss “I Hate Hamlet” as a predictable formulaic comedy about nothing like the television series “Seinfeld” the play instead delivers a message about coming to a crossroads in life and trying to navigate through the confusion by following one’s heart by using humor as a foil for a larger more important theme centered around life and love. That said there is nothing more enjoyable than watching Boehmer’s deliciously devilish performance as the ghost of Barrymore as he prances proudly around in his 16th century tights with a salacious leer and a sly Cheshire cat smile as he manages to seduce not only Rally and his whimsically virginal girlfriend Deirdre (Alyssa Gagarin) but the audience as well.

Although it’s nearly impossible to truly answer the question to be or not to be its at least admirably addressed in “I Hate Hamlet” through its witty humor and thought provoking insight to navigating the crossroads of life. Director Art Manke skillfully takes the audience along for a pleasurable fast paced ride that captures their attention without overwhelming in a production that feels as much like a television sitcom as it does theatre. And while it may seem like the play, much like the popular television series “Seinfeld”, is about nothing for those willing to read between the lines they will find it really is a play about what is most important in life, which is why it’s quite possible that at least one eternal question is answered, perhaps art imitates life after all.

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