I Hate Hamlet, Drury Lane Oakbrook. Playwright Paul Rudnick offers a credible argument for theater’s artistic superiority over television in this chronicle of a hack TV actor’s vain attempts to move from soap operas to the stage. Too bad Rudnick hammers his point across so heavily: this padded update of The Odd Couple, revolving around the uptight TV performer and John Barrymore’s ghost, has less foundation than anything on a major network. And Rudnick populates his play almost entirely with shallow, mean-spirited characters.
But the script does contain about ten minutes of sharp comedy, and the strong performances in Ray Frewen’s staging make the signal-to-noise ratio seem high. Martin Yurek contributes some fine work as the frustrated, sexually repressed chump, but John Reeger carries the show as the alcoholic, womanizing ham Barrymore–a theatrical titan. In fact Reeger’s performance does more for the man’s reputation than the legacy of dysfunction Barrymore himself left. Kurt Sharp’s lavish set design smartly echoes the play’s emphasis on dramatic ornamentation.
Still, it’s impossible to escape the feeling that Rudnick’s pandering script–whose best-received jokes comment on the Hollywood/New York culture clash–was written with a laugh track in mind. And the fact that Rudnick helped churn out such middlebrow cinematic fare as Addams Family Values and The First Wives Club makes it strange he’s decrying Hollywood’s ills.