A Play for Shakespeare Lovers and Haters
by Dana Hammer
I love Shakespeare. The heart-crushingly beautiful language, the high-stakes drama, the really weird sexual euphemisms, and most of all, the feeling that while you are watching a Shakespeare play, you are in the presence of greatness — and that you are, in an important way, participating in high art.
But here’s the thing. I’ve never seen Hamlet. I tried listening to the audiobook, and…I thought it was boring. Do "I Hate Hamlet"? Well, no. But…I don’t love it either. I know it’s supposed to be the greatest play Shakespeare ever wrote, but for me…not so much. So when the main character in "I Hate Hamlet", Andrew Rally, shouts out "I Hate Hamlet" during a seance, I kind of find that refreshing. But Andrew Rally doesn’t really hate Hamlet. He just doesn’t get it. Yet.
"I Hate Hamlet", written by Paul Rudnick, follows a young Hollywood TV actor named Andrew Rally, who has just moved to New York City to take on the role of Hamlet, in a live theater production. He is introduced to his new apartment by his real estate agent, Dantine. The apartment was once owned by the great John Barrymore, whose iconic performance as Hamlet set the bar high for any actors who followed him.
Dantine claims that she can talk to spirits, and decides to attempt a seance to contact John Barrymore. Surprisingly, it works, and John Barrymore shows himself to Andrew. Not only does he show himself, he takes it upon himself to coach Andrew, to teach him the role, and how best to perform it. This coaching has its effect, and Andrew goes full method, decorating his apartment to look like a medieval castle, dressing in character, and generally being a weirdo about it. Shakespeare can have that effect on people sometimes.
Gregory Cohen is the director of the Cabrillo Playhouse production. He was drawn to this play because of the excellent writing. He says “In my opinion, this is one of the best comic scripts out there and I’m very excited to bring it to life. It’s full of very odd, but very real characters; so everything that happens is based in reality… which is a really weird thing to say about a ghost story.”
There is something inherently funny about a famous ghost haunting you, and John Barrymore’s ghost is no exception. Whether he is seducing Andrew’s girlfriend, or giving him acting advice, or just generally being a dramatic old man ghost, he teaches Andrew a lot, and helps him to grow as a person — in hilarious fashion. And we as an audience learn something about acting as a profession, and what draws people to it.
According to Cohen, “…I hope that they (the audience) get a glimpse of why actors want to be on the stage. This play addresses the wonder, terror, and immense joy that come with a live theatrical performance far better than any other script I’ve ever read.”
Of course, if you’re attending this play, it’s safe to say you enjoy live theater. But that doesn’t mean you’re a Shakespeare fan. But that’s alright! This play is for Shakespeare lovers and haters alike. Those who love him will find plenty to love in a play dedicated to Hamlet. Those who dislike him will enjoy the comedy, the gentle poking-fun at people who get obsessed with Shakespeare, and the fact that in the end, this is not a Shakespeare play.
Cohen says this play is for “People who need a good laugh, people who love live theatre, and people who just don’t get the draw of Shakespeare.” Pretty much everyone falls into one of those three categories.
I, for one, am definitely excited to see this play, and I’ll be buying a ticket momentarily. And maybe one day, I’ll get around to buying a ticket to Hamlet, too.
Dana Hammer is the author of The Cannibal’s Guide to Fasting, My Best Friend Athena, and many plays and short stories. She unapologetically loves Joe Goldberg.
"I Hate Hamlet"
The Cabrillo Playhouse
202 Avenida Cabrillo, San Clemente, CA 92672
March 3 - 26, 2023