Golden Comic Chemistry in VPH’s I HATE HAMLET

by Michael Schwartz

The cast of Village Players of Hatboro's I HATE HAMLET, running through June 25.

If the right people meet in a comedy, then you’re home free. Whether it’s Groucho meeting Chico and Harpo, Gene Wilder meeting Zero Mostel in The Producers, or Kristen Wiig meeting Melissa McCarthy in the current Bridesmaids, then any other error in pacing, plot, or sentiment doesn’t much matter—as long as that comic team comes back, we know we’re going to have a great time. This observation is particularly relevant to the Village Players of Hatboro’s production of Paul Rudnick’s I HATE HAMLET. Because in this production, Anthony Cipollo meets Kevin Korowicki, and all the show’s problems evaporate into the warm spring evening, and all is forgiven.

This meeting requires a bit of elucidation. The ghost of actor John Barrymore, embodied onstage by Mr. Korowicki, has just entered TV star Andrew Rally’s apartment, where Barrymore once lived. As per playwright Paul Rudnick’s whimsical plot, it’s Barrymore’s job to rally Rally into accepting and following through on playing theater’s richest role, Hamlet. Rally is played by Mr. Cipollo, and the first thing Mr Cipollo does upon meeting the late Mr. Barrymore is make Lou Costello noises. You know, from the Abbott and Costello movies (I’m sorry, but that’s the best way I can describe it). And it’s ridiculous, of course, because that’s not how people really behave, but it’s funny when Costello does it, and it’s equally funny when Cipollo does it. Cipollo, with his jumpy delivery and crack timing, can make just about anything sound funny, and when he’s reacting, he looks funny. Korowicki, in the meantime, struts and frets Mr. Barrymore’s hour upon the stage in high comic fashion, whether he’s seducing, declaiming, showing off his tights, or lip-synching to a song the real Barrymore wouldn’t have lived long enough to know about. Never mind that that last part makes no sense; what you need to know is that separately, Korowicki and Cipollo are very funny, and when they’re together, it’s damn near comic perfection.

That part is very important, because playwright Rudnick unfortunately overextended his lighthearted valentine to the age of theatre Barrymore represented with too many side issues and subplots, and worse, a few attempts to make a Serious Statement about Art and Commercialism. If capable director Jim Balcerek makes any errors in judgment, it’s that he gives the serious scenes as much emphasis as the funny ones, thus deflating Rudnick’s comic balloon for extended stretches. This attitude leads to the one misstep in Korowicki’s performance, when Barrymore confesses to his anxious protégé Rally just how far he’d fallen by the end of his career. At this point, Korowicki drops all the Barrymore mannerisms and speaks in his normal, real-life voice. You get why he does it—we’re meant to realize that “Barrymore” was a character that Barrymore himself created, but the move doesn’t quite come off. Fortunately, Korowicki and Cipollo soon resume their real business of being hysterical, and they don’t disappoint, right through the curtain call.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t several other funny and talented people doing valuable things onstage. Rudnick’s supporting cast includes a bevy of show-business and real estate types that were already pretty familiar 20 years ago when I HATE HAMLET first hit Broadway. Nevertheless, Colleen Mackle, as a séance-performing real estate agent, and Brian Richichi, as the ultimate sleazy Hollywood “hyphenate,” wring reams of laughs from their roles. Maggie Marshall, as Rally’s spacey girlfriend, performs with a measure of sweetness as well as abundant comic enthusiasm. Lorie Baldwin scores as Lillian, Rally’s formidable Teutonic agent; she provides considerable tough-as-nail laughs as well as an unexpected sweetness of her own. They all deserve applause and bouquets.

But, as Barrymore himself attests, the play is finally about glory. The real Barrymore touched glory by rising to the top of his talents to portray drama’s most complex and compelling creation, thus consummating a lifelong love affair between himself and his audience. Messrs. Cipollo and Korowicki, in turn, reach their own glory by committing themselves body and soul to absolute foolishness, executed with flair and panache, and providing a couple of hours of mirth. It’s also an actor-audience love affair, and it’s a lovefest to be enthusiastically embraced.

by Paul Rudnick
Directed by Jim Balcerek
Assistant Directed by Erin Ryan
June 10-25, 2011
The Village Players of Hatboro
401 Jefferson Avenue
Hatboro, PA 19040

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