I Hate Hamlet

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Provo Theatre Company is back.

After last year’s season of masterpieces and duds, this year’s first show, “I Hate Hamlet,” suggets a return to the PTC we know and love: entertaining shows that are edgy, but not so edgy they scare off Utah Valley audiences.

The ads call this is a “contemporary farce,” but it’s really just a comedy: With the exception of a couple one-dimensional characters, there aren’t any farcical elements in the show.

But anyway. Andrew (Paul Walstad) is a TV actor whose show has been canceled and has moved to an apartment in New York — an apartment once owned by the great thespian John Barrymore. When Andrew agrees to play Hamlet in a “Shakespeare in the Park” production, Barrymore’s ghost (Richard J. Clifford) appears to him, announcing that he must haunt his old apartment until he has properly trained Andrew in playing the most complex role in theater history.

Problem is, Andrew hates “Hamlet,” and his weaselly TV-producer friend Gary (Steven Craig Dunford) — one of those aforementioned one-dimensional characters, whom Barrymore calls “a cultural cavity” — is trying to lure him back to Hollywood.

Andrew sees similarities, however, between his relationship with his no-sex-till-marriage girlfriend Deirdre (Anne Flemming) and Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia. Barrymore teaches him (and us) how to use “Hamlet” as a metaphor for sex — a novel innovation, and one of the play’s more clever points.

Clifford is hysterically brilliant as Barrymore. He is grandiose and pompous, full of sweeping gestures and theatricality — along with being a drunk and a womanizer. (One priceless scene is when Deirdre reads to Andrew from Barrymore’s biography of the once-great actor’s descent into alcoholism and wretchedness, while Barrymore looks on in horror.)

Walstad is well-cast as Andrew. One truly believes him as a blandly good-looking TV actor with enough talent to get by, but mostly with a really good agent. Andrew stinks at Shakespeare, but Walstad shines as Andrew.

The play gets off to a slow start — really, until Barrymore appears and saves things. There’s a real estate agent named Felicia (Carol M. Rice) who, in true sit-com fashion, becomes more involved with the other characters’ lives than is realistic and tries to contact Barrymore through a seance. (It doesn’t work, because he’s already there, which makes you wonder why the playwright even bothered.)

But one slow scene that works is between Andrew’s agent Lillian (Jean Jenkins) and Barrymore. Seems they had a fling once — one of Barrymore’s many and her few — and they have a rather sweet reunion scene as she tries to recapture lost love and he tries to find some kind of redemption for his ultimately-wasted life.

Those serious moments are few here, but they are justified. And overall, the show is full of laughs and merriment. Some jokes will be more appreciated by those well-acquainted with Shakespeare, but anyone with a sense of humor can enjoy a show where the main character is a ghost wearing tights.

I was excited about PTC's season, and the first entry gave me hope that it would indeed be a good year. Richard Clifford is a wonderful actor. He had played Handel in "Joyful Noise" at BYU a year earlier, and he was fantastic then, too.

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