I must admit, one goes to a production directed by Lori Raffel, CCP’s Artistic Director for the past four years, with certain expectations. I mean the lady has won 2 Best Directing Encore Awards in the past 3 years (or is it 3 in the past 4? – I can’t even begin to keep it straight) and directs at The Phoenix in Indianapolis and just, you know, has a knack for picking great scripts and peopling them with wonderful actors, who are made even more wonderful through her inspiring direction.

So I had high hopes when Mrs K and I headed up to Clay Terrace to take in the 4th installment in CCP’s “Make ’em Laugh” season. We arrived for the first Sunday matinee of “I Hate Hamlet” by Paul Rudnick – a play I had read, but had never seen. And I have to say, I was not pleased….no, I was truly and completely overwhelmed!

This is the story of a television actor, Andrew Rally, who moves to New York City, after his easy tv acting  job in Hollywood gets cancelled, to try his hand at the NY theatre scene. His notoriety from the tv show lands him a chance to play Hamlet in NY’s Shakespeare in the Park series. Inspired by his girl-friend, and his agent, he takes the daunting role against his better judgement and as a result is visited by John Barrymore. The famous classic actor provides encouragement and instruction for the role, as well as inspiration for solving other problems which Andrew faces.

The role of Andrew, is energetically played by Earl Campbell. I have seen Earl in many good turns in local theatre and have directed him in “Art” at CCP in 2008. He is as solid an actor as we have in our community theatre circle. Always sensitive and compelling to watch, Earl played Andrew with the kind of determination he brings to all his roles. Great presence and comic timing, both physically and in his character’s short throw-off lines, makes you never want to take your eyes off of Earl.

Earl Campbell as Andrew Rally and Eric Bryant as Barrymore

But take your eyes off him you must, because playing opposite him in the great majority of the play’s scenes is Eric Bryant in the role of John Barrymore. This is a coveted role, and it is a difficult one. There is posing and swashbuckling, sword-fighting and classic takes on all manner of our everyday world. Barrymore, dressed as Hamlet and returned from the dead to aid and assist a fellow Hamlet, arrives in a modern world set in his former home. Bryant, a friend whom I have worked with in his capacity as fight coordinator but never onstage, simply put – IS Barrymore. Aided by a striking physical similarity, Eric Bryant seems to channel the great actor as he moves flawlessly through the role, with a perfect voice, a perfect grace and just the right amount of apt reaction as a visitor from another era. Barrymore is very comfortable with the knowledge that Hamlet is the ultimate actor’s role and one believes that Bryant is indeed Barrymore expressing that belief.

Sarah McGee is completely convincing as Andrew’s girlfriend Deirdre McDavey, a 29 year old starry-eyed virgin, who hopes that her Andrew is the right man, but is willing to wait a bit longer to be sure – adding angst to Andrew’s life. The last time I worked with Sarah was in “Don’t Dress for Dinner” at The Belfry, where she played pretty much the 180 degree opposite role as the sexy girlfriend of a married man. She brings a perfect pitch to the dreamy qualities of her character and never fails to be “in the moment”. It was really wonderful to see that her acting range is so very wide…and I’ll look forward to working with Sarah again in the future.

Earl Campbell as Andrew, Sarah McGee as Dierdre and Laura Lanman Givens as Felicia

                                                                                                                                   

Laura Lanman Givens is new to me and I thought she did a solid job with her energetic portrayal of Felicia Dantine, the realtor who brings Andrew to Barrymore’s former home. A wacky seance scene works well because of her energy and she pulls off a true NY accent to boot. A word about costuming must be included in this character’s critique. Costume Designer Patricia Schiro-Long’s choices sparkle through-out but never so much as those worn by Felicia. Her particular color combo is fun and saucy and her opening night gown is spectacular.

Eric Bryant as Barrymore and Ginny Burt as Lillian Troy

 

Ginny Burt plays Andrew’s agent, Lillian Troy and you can tell she is having a ball! Lillian is ‘experienced’ enough to have known the living Barrymore and their eventual meeting in Act 2 is a wonderful piece of theatre – soft and funny, lovingly done by these two actors. Burt is another perfect casting by the director and it was great to see her onstage again.

Shawn Evans completes the cast as Andrew’s Hollywood connection Gary Peter Lefkowitz. To be honest, I thought that Shawn was a bit off balance in his first scene, out of synch with what we had seen up til then, but he rallied in the remainder of the show – giving Gary a wonderfully west coast feel and convincingly showing that area’s separated ideals and notions. Evans is a big man, but his physicality in this role needs to be mentioned and applauded. He puts it all on the line as he flops, drops, hops and nods to illustrate what his character is thinking and feeling. It all makes for a real comedic portrayal of someone who is otherwise just odd – Midwesternly speaking, that is.

Shawn Evans as Gary and Earl Campbell as Andrew

I can’t complete this review without mention of the hardest working man in Indy theatre, R. Brian Noffke, whose lighting, subtly adding layers to the presentation, was a great addition. Kurt Krauter and Lori Raffel designed the well-appointed set.

This is really a triumph of a show, with a tour de force performance by Mr. Bryant. It is another must-see in CCP’s amazing season of make ’em laugh shows. There is however one thing I must say that is a negative…I am sure anyone who saw the show today would have felt the same.

And that is that there is only one weekend left in the show’s run – Thurs April 7 through Sunday April 10th! Call 815-9387 for reservations. Do not miss it!

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