I Hate Hamlet, at the Royal George Theatre Center.

Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet is a sweet nothing of a comedy, only a few centimeters deeper than Rudnick’s screenplay for Addams Family Values. Still, you have to admire his craft as a playwright, especially given the fact that his premise–TV actor who’s about to play Hamlet for the first time and is scared to death is helped through the crisis by the ghost of John Barrymore–resembles such old-time fare as the 1937 movie Topper and Noel Coward’s 1941 Blithe Spirit.

Somehow Rudnick keeps his story moving and more or less unpredictable, though you’ll probably beat him to the punch when it comes to the play’s big question: should the protagonist sell his soul and go to Hollywood, or stay in New York and work in the theater at poverty-level wages?

Director Christopher Ashley deserves as much credit as Rudnick for making this old-fashioned play seem new. Ashley’s pacing is just slow enough to make sure no audience member gets lost and just quick enough to keep things moving. And the cast are likable and competent, though only two of them–Larry Yando as a totally So Cal TV director and John Vickery as Barrymore –deliver performances sufficiently electrifying to make you realize that live theater is more than TV without commercials. God knows you wouldn’t learn that from Rudnick’s script.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Rest.