Hollywood HAMLET at Bridge Players in Burlington

by He Said/She Said

(He Said….)

by [author 10]

The Bridge Players Theatre Company opening night production of I HATE HAMLET played to a sparse but enthusiastic audience at the Methodist Church in Burlington.  Here’s one time “strictly theatre fans” and “strictly TV fans” can unite and enjoy the show.  If such groups exist…  It doesn’t really matter which kind of fan you are; the play is full of barbs at both stage and small screen that will make you smile, chuckle or laugh.

"Hamlet's Ghost & Andrew" - Steve Kumke and Newel Gatrell in a scene from Bridge Players Theatre Company's I HATE HAMLET.

Paul Rudnick’s play is about a television actor who, after his TV show is cancelled, has won the role of Hamlet in the city’s theatre in the park production.  Was Andrew Rally, of L.A. Medical fame, cast because his “star” was particularly shining or was it his acting ability?  So, why does an “actor” who loves L.A. and “modern” furniture come to New York, rent John Barrymore’s old pad and agree to play Hamlet?  The answer, of course, has to do with a girl:  his girlfriend, Deidre, is in love with the classical theatre, but not sure enough about him to sleep with him.  In this “dramatic comedy,” there is chaste romance, unchaste romance, blatant romance, a fair amount of comedy and a little drama.  What’s next is the real question.

The show was filled with some great character performances.  Newel Gatrell as John Barrymore’s ghost is the perfect foil (they use those, too) to Steve Kumke’s Andrew Rally, in part because they have opposite looks and voices.   Kumke is blond and, I would guess, a tenor, while Gatrell has dark hair and is probably a baritone.  As actors, they worked well together, but it seemed to me Kumke’s best moments in the show are when they are paired.  I liked Gatrell’s flourish as Barrymore, but there was  a moment in the second act (the dramatic part) where I felt he peaked in the scene too soon.  Whether it was the director’s call or his, the performance felt strained at the end because he nearly screeched his last few lines.  He did have some wonderful moments when he nailed it and captured Barrymore’s essence.  In all fairness, Gatrell or anyone else in the cast may have a better rhythm on another night in the same way as a light may flicker or sound cue comes a bit early.  No worries. 

Marissa DiPilla does a nice job with romantic, wide-eyed girlfriend, Deirdre.  Stand-out performers are generally the character actors, who always seem to get the best comedic lines to work with, and it’s no different in this show.  I especially liked Lillian Troy as his agent who has great tender scene with Barrymore in the second act.   Lily K. Doyle as the realtor, Felicia Dantine, and Ken Marblestone, as Gary Peter Lefkowitz play well together for laughs.  I don’t know how Lily was able to keep a straight face when Gatrell is kissing and biting her arm while she is supposed to be unaware he is there.  Ken:  I loved those white shoes for both casual and formal wear.

Comedy is about playing it straight and it’s funny.  It still needs to be real.  What we find funny about some characters is that they remind us of people we know—often stereotypes with whom we can identify.  Aside.  I find myself typing “Hamelot” instead of Hamlet, but I don’t think there’s anything Freudian in that; Rally does call Barrymore a “ham,” but there don’t seem to be real “hams” here, just honest actors.

This show marked the directorial debut of Chris Focarile and is a fine community theatre effort.  I’m sure we’ll see more from him.  Overall, I liked the show.  While I found performances in the first act a bit too campy, the actors settled more into their parts by the second act. 

Call OSHA if you want to, but I was bothered that actors sat on boxes without checking if they would hold their weight.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally sit on a card board box without seeing what I’m sitting on.  Books?  Okay.  Dishes or knick knacks?  No.  However, the sword fight was well choreographed and played well (and safely).

I didn’t care for the card table being used for the seance (and is never seen again) when a regular piece of furniture, a small table could have been used from the set.  This would have given actors another acting area and more variety of staging.  It seemed the actors played mostly down stage right by the front door, albeit the most attractive part of the set.  At the Bridge Players, the theatre productions are in the Methodist Church gym/auditorium on a nice wide but not very deep stage, which has to be real challenge in designing and building the set. 

I was able to suspend my disbelief with I HATE HAMLET or “Hamelot,” and for first-time director, talented cast and crew, a job nicely done.

(She Said….)

by [author 11]

What do you do if you’re a young TV actor known only as the cute doctor in a medical show and  a commercial you share with a chipmunk hand puppet and you’ve been talked into doing Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park?  You whine to your 25 year-old-still-a-virgin girlfriend who loves Shakespeare, that you can’t do it, you whine to your agent that you can’t do it, you whine to the broker who is showing you your new apartment in NYC that you can’t do it.  That’s when she tells you that this apartment used to belong to John Barrymore, America’s greatest Hamlet!  Thus begins I HATE HAMLET, Bridge Players’ season opener.

Lou DiPilla’s set design as we got to see in Act II was very well done but in Act I it needs tweaking.  The dust covers on the furniture should all have been white, the packing boxes shouldn’t have been used as seats for the players during the seance scene since it immediately relayed to the audience that they were not cardboard boxes. Or the actors could have looked around for these particular boxes after testing the strength of the other boxes on stage.

Steve Kumke (Andrew Rally) was uneven at best in Act I,  better in Act II.

Lily K. Doyle (Felicia Dantine) was THE NYC broker.  Her accent and fast talking sell for the apartment just right.

Marrissa DiPilla (Deirdre McDavey) played the girlfriend encouraging Andrew while holding him off, as sweet and sappy, exactly as directed, I suspect.

Susan Jami Paschkes (Lillian Troy) was perfection.  Her German accent authentic, her take charge manner, “I’m your agent”, came through without words.  In Act II she was elegant, wistful and beautiful.  Experience does show.

Newell Gatrell (John Barrymore), a theatre major, who has worked in professional theatre, which was obvious in his performance.  Although several years too young for Barrymore, he played the part exactly right, but I do wish he hadn’t played with his cape so much.  Just let it be where it falls on your body.  Opening night wish for perfection, I hope or fix the closure so the actor does not need to be concerned with costume issues.

Ken Marblestone (Gary Peter Lefkowitz) was what we think of as a Hollywood pitchman; a glad handing, snake oil salesman.  He did it well.  Just wait for the laughs to die down before going on with your lines, Ken.  We missed some dialogue.

Congratulations to whoever choreographed the sword fight scene.  Well done by Steve and Newel.

Why weren’t the Hamlets wearing real tights?  Whatever they had on looked like stretch stirrup pants.  Not good.

This show is Chris Focarile’s directorial debut and it shows.  He has his actors in a straight line, bunched by the door, the couch is too far downstage leaving less room for the actors to move around.  BPTC has a very decent size stage and it was not utilized as well as it could have been.  His worst sin was having the characters giving lines at the very edge of the stage, especially in Act II when we have both Hamlets side by side.  I felt that the fourth wall was broken. 

This is a funny, well written show, pretty well done.  I encourage you to go see it.  The acts were over before I realized that much time has gone by.  Always a good thing for theatre.

by Paul Rudnick
Directed by Chris Focarile
October 1 – 16, 2010
Bridge Players Theatre Company
36 E. Broad Street
Burlington, NJ 08016

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