“I Hate Hamlet,” the Suffield Players’ final show of the season, opens tonight. Here’s our hero, Andrew Rally, a TV actor come back to New York to try his hand at theater, and Felicia Dantine, the real estate agent who’s found him the “perfect” apartment, a Greenwich Village space once owned by John Barrymore.
Andrew is in standard streetwear – blue jeans, sneakers, an oxford shirt over a t-shirt and a leather jacket.
Felicia, a flamboyant and pushy New Yorker, is wearing a hot pink suit under her bright green slicker. She’s convinced he’ll love the place. He’s not so sure.
The director asked for a hippie boho look for Andrew’s girlfriend, Deirdre, so she’s in a tiered peasant skirt and a loose blouse with an elaborate paisley design. She’s very romantic and thrilled that he will be living in a place once owned by Barrymore. “Oh, Andrew . . . his walls . . . his floor . . . the staircase to his roof . . . the air he breathed . . . ”
Deirdre is soon followed by Lillian, Andrew’s agent, who reveals she once had “a little fling” with Barrymore in this very apartment. (“Andrew, perhaps you have found my hairpins.”) The actress had that fabulous black and leopard print dress hanging in her closet and we decided it was perfect for the glamorous Lillian. She also found the leopard print shoes to match.
Lillian pushes Andrew to reveal that he’s been cast as Hamlet in the summer’s Shakespeare in the Park production. Deirdre thinks that’s the most amazing news she’s ever heard, but Andrew isn’t even sure he wants the part. Then Felicia insists that she’s a bit of a psychic, and they attempt a seance to contact the spirit of Barrymore, but it’s a bust.
After Felicia and Lillian leave and Deirdre goes upstairs to the one-room cottage on the roof, Andrew decides he really doesn’t want to play Hamlet. As he pours champagne and makes a toast (“So goodbye, Hamlet, and goodnight, Barrymore!”) there’s a flash of lightning and the ghost of John Barrymore appears.
Since the show’s Broadway premiere in 1991, the tradition has been to dress the actor playing John Barrymore in a replica of the costume that Barrymore himself wore when he played Hamlet in 1922. So I made Ed a medieval tunic from panne velvet with a white muslin undershirt, found a three strand chain necklace in the company’s costume jewelry collection and bought him some tights. Instant Barrymore.
While Barrymore is trying to convince Andrew to take the role of Hamlet, Deirdre comes back downstairs in her extremely virginal nightgown (“Deirdre, you’re a 29-year-old virgin. And you tell everyone. I think fear of silliness is not the issue.”)
A little bit of Hamlet’s “Get thee to a nunnery” speech (with line interpretations suggested by Barrymore) gets Deirdre all hot and bothered, until the doorbell rings and interrupts them. It’s writer-producer-director Gary Peter Lefkowitz, come from LA to talk Andrew into doing another TV series.
The only costuming note my director gave me pre-show was that he wanted Gary in Hawaiian shirts, so he wears two of them during the play along with those linen blend pants I found for him.
Act 1 ends with a sword fight and Andrew deciding he will take the role of Hamlet.
Act 2 opens six weeks later on opening night. Deirdre has gotten a non-speaking role as one of Ophelia’s ladies-in-waiting, and Felicia and Gary have stopped by before heading to the performance.
I made the “Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington” jacket for Felicia to go with the actress’ own little black evening dress, and Deirdre’s costume is from the local costume rental warehouse.
Even Gary has broken out his tux jacket, but I gave him an “I’m too cool for a bow tie” collarless tux shirt. And those are the actor’s black loafers, which he is wearing without socks.
After everyone leaves, Andrew confesses to Barrymore that he is terrified. (“I’m going to be on that stage with real actors, with people who know what they’re doing!”)
Peg Carbonneau, a friend of the director’s with a professional costuming background, made us this fabulous Elizabethan-era costume for Andrew based on my request for doublet and trunk hose. It is far nicer than anything I was able to find for rental and that I might have made myself, so Peg, I bow before you.
Lillian arrives to shoo Andrew out to the theater, but stays in hopes of “one last encounter” with Barrymore, who she can see. They waltz by candlelight as the scene ends.
The next morning, Andrew returns, wearing his trunk hose, a poet’s shirt, and an air of dejection. He’s been wandering the city all night.
He has just started to tell Barrymore how badly his performance went when Gary arrives with the morning papers and the reviews. Now that Andrew has bombed, Gary is sure he’ll agree to the TV deal Gary has been arranging.
It turns out that Felicia and Gary hooked up at the performance the night before (“But at intermission I got thirsty, and Gary has a bar in the limo . . . “) and she’s flying off to LA with him for a long weekend.
Andrew turns down the TV deal, and the $3 million salary that goes with it. Gary and Felicia leave, Gary vowing to return (“Andy, this theater thing – we’ll beat it, together.”)
Just then, the door to the roof opens and Deirdre comes down. She has had an epiphany, aided by moonlight and Barrymore. I wanted something more sensual for her than the virginal shroud of act 1, but didn’t want to risk a tiny-spaghetti-strap-induced wardrobe malfunction, so I found her this robe and nightgown set on ebay. The red floral print evokes Deirdre’s awakened passion while the look is still relatively covered-up, so my actress doesn’t have to fear a Janet Jackson Superbowl moment.
So “All’s Well That End’s Well,” and Barrymore returns from whence he came after giving Andrew one last lesson – this one in the proper, over-the-top, method of bowing.
“I Hate Hamlet” by Paul Rudnick will be performed at The Suffield Players, Mapleton Hall, Suffield, CT on May 2, 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 8 pm and on May 12 at 2 pm. Tickets and further information at www.suffieldplayers.org