By Steve Odenthal
Do you hate Shakespeare? Perhaps hate is too strong a word. Whether you love the Bard or find his words, shall we say slumber-some, the Heritage Theatre in Perry Utah has a play for you. Oh sure, you might hear a few “get thee to a nunnery” quotes and there will be the talk of “outrageous fortune” tossed about, but you can be sure that this is a modern play with language, and situations to match. For that reason, be sure that you are up to a grown-up night of Theater fun complete with a ghost, codpieces, and tights. The play written by Paul Rudnick, originated on Broadway on April 8, 1991 and features swordplay, wordplay, and general frolicking about a young television actor Andrew Ralley (Quin Geilman) finds himself in New York on involuntary hiatus as his popular, and high-paying series is no more. His well-seasoned agent Lillian Troy (Gena Lott) has, of course, signed him to play Hamlet in the park to keep his name out there and her commissions coming in. A return to his Theatre roots would seem to be exactly what the doctor ordered—in the old days; but not so much now for Ralley who trod the boards only in University productions and only a handful of them at that. To say that the young man had fame thrust upon him would be an understatement and Geilman plays the overmatched and doubtful youngster well, giving the audience enough boyishness to be endearing while still maintaining a tepid determination that glimmers and grows throughout the play. When the time is right for the challenge to be answered, we, like him, kinda figure he can do it. In the role of Lillian, Lott comes across as wise, weathered but not worn of the world. She has firm control of her situation and client and holds her own with the Ghost.
Oh yes, you will like this—there is a ghost. However, not just any ghost. This is the ghost of John Barrymore of the Barrymore—first family of Theatre fame. He now is the famous one. While Lionel and Ethyl his siblings soaked up the applause and awards in their time, John is the one with the lasting fame it seems, capitalizing on his Matinee Idol image and career. John’s conquests were not entirely on the stage and Barrymore’s New York apartment is where young Ralley now finds himself as he begrudgingly sets to his preparation for the role of Hamlet. Little does the young actor know as he moves in that a roommate in tights waits–none other than John Barrymore, himself. Could there be a better roomie and mentor?
The role of Barrymore is double cast in this production with Matthew Dickerson, and Dave McKensie offering excellent, but slightly different performances. Mckensie captures a slightly older, more fatherly interpretation of the lusty fellow, while Dickerson regularly pulls himself up to a poised, posed, and prominent master thespian in short-pants and tights. Both will have you in the aisles as they put John Barrymore through his paces, however, the Barrymore I witnessed this night was portrayed by Dickerson. His facial antics and reactions mixed with a little body language made the role tremendously fun to watch. Dickerson brings the matinee idol to life and when the opportunity arises to play the mentor, he delivers without losing the ghost’s comedic persona.
Director Justin “Spot” Beecher has handpicked this play to delight audiences and deliver a message that we all should not fear “trying” new things. It is obvious that he has allowed some experimentation and interpretation by his actors and welcomes the little extras that this cast can deliver. One such choice Beecher made was in the casting of Aubrey Dickey who more than adequately handles the role of Regina Lefkowitz. Traditionally, this role is a hard-charging male Hollywood type, dropping names here and there and not above using any angle that isn’t nailed down to advance his own career. Beecher asks the question on stage of why can’t this be a driven professional woman? The answer Dickey delivers is definite and sure. The Regina character is on task and on target as well as being a lot of fun to watch.
Carisa Barker in the role of Deirdre McDavey pulls off a treat of a performance as the starry-eyed innocent love interest of Andrew Ralley. She is in love with love and Andrew but their romance is stuck in a low gear as far as the young Thespian is concerned—again discussion of adult things ensues. Those discussions are handled without specifics or lewdness, but may not be appropriate for a young crowd. The story seems to be in the PG-13 range. Even so, Geilman and Barker capture for us as the story unfolds a certain sweetness.
Gena Lott owns her character in a way that I have not seen in other productions of this show. Most play the aging agent in a harsher tone, defining the role with an extreme cough from too many cigarettes over the years, but Lott and Beecher chose to portray the toughness but with some slight traces of elegance that for me made the discovery of her past history with Barrymore a bit easier to believe. She is still a tough cookie, but fun to watch.
Makayla Thornley as Felicia Dantine, the real estate broker who finds Andrew his apparition-filled apartment is well cast as she leads séances, and generally is on the edge of all things Greenwich Village and New York. Thornley brings to us a bit of ditz and style at the same time. She controls Andrew nicely as he squirms a bit at the history of the apartment and she gives off a vibe that tells us she is our friend—she could be a deadly customer service rep on a phone in this day and age.
I laughed a lot during this show. I also was glad that I was sitting a few rows back when the actual sword play began, having read a bit about the original 88 performances of this show on Broadway. I don’t think that the Ghost in this Heritage production will actually stab young Andrew nor cause the ruckus that the fellow originally cast as Barrymore in Rudnick’s first production did, which, by the way, caused the playwright to pen a 2007 New Yorker article entitled “I Hit Hamlet.” No, I think you will be safer in this Justin “Spot” Beecher production—except for the laughs. There is no protection from that as the Barrymore ghost and indeed the whole cast plays to “the second balcony” in true Theater style! Enjoy the show.
Aubrey Dickey, Carisa Barker, Dave McKensie, Gena Lott, Heritage Community Theatre, I Hate Hamlet, Justin “Spot” Beecher, Makayla Thornley, Matthew Dickerson, Paul Rudnick, Quin Geilman
I Hate Hamlet
April 12 – May 4, 2019 Friday, Saturday & Monday – Curtain 7:30 PM
Matinee: Saturday, April 20th 2:00 PM
Heritage Community Theatre 2505 South Hwy 89 Perry, Utah 84302
Tickets by phone or online at www.heritagetheatreutah.com
$12 Gen Admission $10 Seniors/Children
Phone: (435) 723-8392