John Barrymore, legend of stage and screen, may have died in 1942, but he’s making a comeback, at least in North County theaters. In the North Coast Repertory Theatre’s world premiere Faded Glory, Bruce Turk portrayed a young, boozing Barrymore full of mischief; now, in Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s production of Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet, stentorian voiced Ruff Yeager is playing a dead, but boozing and full of mischief Barrymore, who’s come back as a ghost to empower an insecure TV actor named Andrew Rally (Francis Gercke). In both productions, the Barrymore character commands every scene he’s in, but much more so in I Hate Hamlet, in which he is the heart and soul of the show.
Yeager has an actor’s field day (the real Barrymore had a lot of those, of course) in this production directed by Christopher Williams and co-starring Gercke, Tom Stephenson (recently so stellar in Intrepid’s far more sober All My Sons), Gerilyn Brault (as a real estate agent who sounds like a brassier Rhoda Morganstern), dignified Dagmar Fields as Andrew’s agent and winsome Brooke McCormick Paul as the avowed 29-year-old virgin who has Andrew’s frustration button blinking red. This lightweight comedy’s conflict concerns whether Andrew will forgo a mega-big TV-series deal (playing a schoolteacher with superpowers by night) or go the serious actor’s route and perform the role of Hamlet in New York’s Shakespeare in the Park. Adding to his psychological conundrum is the fact that he’s residing in the late John Barrymore’s NYC apartment – as is Barrymore’s ghost, who for some reason a few of the characters can see while others can’t.
Gercke is adequate in the angst and anxiety department, but he is dwarfed (literally and figuratively) by the towering Yeager in every scene they share. Rudnick’s living-room comedy, produced on Broadway way back in ’91, does raise some questions about what it means to be an actor -- in this case, is it better to fail at Shakespeare than to succeed at hawking a snack food on TV with a puppet? Much of the time, though, it’s merely rambunctious ghost-in-the-house silliness. Could be sitcom material after all.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.