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It's in the Bard

play
Wilson P. Graham

Hamlet's Ghost: Drew Anderson (top) offers some acting advice to Michael Killianey.

Palo Alto Players conjures up the spirit of John Barrymore in 'I Hate Hamlet'

By Heather Zimmerman

PAUL RUDNICK'S I Hate Hamlet celebrates the writer who is both the bane of reluctant English students and the pinnacle of achievement for the "serious" actor. The play explores both sides of the love-hate relationship that actors and audiences alike have with Shakespeare, mischievously likening the Bard's pennings to "algebra on stage" while at the same time portraying their epiphanic effect on a mediocre television actor. Indeed, so powerful are Shakespeare's words that they can raise the dead, in the ghostly form of the renowned John Barrymore, who returns from the grave to guide one Andrew Rally--a marginally talented performer who has taken up residence in Barrymore's former New York apartment--through the daunting role of Hamlet.

The Palo Alto Players launch an enthusiastic production of Rudnick's light and witty work with Drew Anderson as an exuberant and debonair Barrymore. Despite a wine bottle ever-present in his grip, Anderson's Barrymore is strangely sober but no less swashbuckling and probably more enjoyable to watch than if he were portrayed as merely a staggering drunk. As Rally, Michael Killianey is, at times, almost as convincingly indecisive and frustrated as the pouty Danish prince himself, particularly when he realizes that his limited talents are no match for the formidable role of Hamlet. For the most part, Anderson and Killianey play well off each other, especially with Rudnick's rapid-fire banter and in a wonderfully over-the-top impromptu sword fight, although the twosome is not as effective in more serious scenes.

Adding to the color and calamity are a group of Rally's overbearing friends--a smarmy L.A. producer, Gary (Kamal al-Marayati); Deirdre (Lee Ann Payne), Andrew's unyieldingly chaste girlfriend; Lillian (Marian Sinton), his asthmatic agent; and Felicia (Stacy Sanders), a pushy real-estate broker--who variously urge on or discourage the ambivalent actor. This motley group assembles in Barrymore's palatial apartment, an imaginative set fashioned after a castle, replete with "stone" walls, Gothic woodwork and crossed swords. Best of all, the Players seem to retain Rudnick's wonderful spirit of both love and irreverence for the classics. Of course, as Rally learns, playing Hamlet is about much more than reading the Cliff's Notes, stuffing your codpiece and brandishing a sword. But sometimes those things help, too.


I Hate Hamletplays Wednesday­Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm (June 23) and at 2:30pm (June 30) through June 30. Tickets are $16­$18. (415/329-0891)

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From the June 20-26, 1996 issue of Metro

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