Hollywood On Stage
Two local productions give Tinseltown a second take.
Thursday, June 24, 2004
In the world of live theater, Hollywood has long been regarded as the great corruptor of acting talent. Movie stardom and its lure of wealth and fame has always been portrayed as something of a Faustian pact—a bargain that inevitably costs the actor his soul.
This week, two tremendously original plays explore Hollywood’s corrupting influence on art and life: I Hate Hamlet, at the Magic Circle Center in Carmel Valley, and The Cripple of Inishmaan, which opens at The Western Stage in Salinas.
Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet is a ghost story set in, of all times, the late eighties. When an out-of-work television actor named Andrew Rally moves back to New York from Hollywood to rediscover his roots, he takes on the über-challenge of Hamlet to impress his Shakespeare-crazy, virgin girlfriend, and to prove to the world that he’s more than just a TV hack.
Moving into a top-floor apartment once inhabited by the legendary actor John Barrymore, Rally discovers that the ghost of the bombastic, alcohol-swilling bon vivant is still alive, and has been charged with the task of preparing him for the role.
As the apprehensive and insecure TV actor, Tim Hart does an amusing Back to the Future-era Michael J. Fox impression, from his sly one-liners and earnest grins right down to the hair, the jeans and the Converse shoes. A polar shift from his recent turn in MPC’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hart’s performance is fun and vigorous enough not to be upstaged by Richard Boynton’s set-chomping turn as Barrymore.
As self-proclaimed “actor, seducer, legend, corpse” John Barrymore (yes, Drew’s grandfather), Boynton struts about with the air of a likeable, half-drunk cad, wearing black tights and Errol Flynn hair. Among other things, he teaches the incredulous Rally that “Hamlet is hormone,” and that the role’s successful portrayal is primarily reliant on the bulge in the actor’s tights. In a nutshell, he says, it takes balls to do Hamlet.
Barrymore helps Rally channel his sexual frustration, insecurity and fear into the role, while providing him with perspective on the long tradition of playing Hamlet. It’s a lesson in soul that’s threatened by the arrival of Rally’s soulless Hollywood agent, played with irritating aplomb by the loud and colorful D. Scott McQuiston. Deriding Shakespeare as “algebra on the stage,” the agent attempts to lure Rally back to Hollywood with the promise of a new TV series worth millions of dollars.
Caught between the mutually exclusive desires of celebrity and self-respect, Rally must rely on advice from “an errant knave crawling between heaven and hell”—the very type of creature that Hamlet himself is warned never to trust.
Director Suzanne Sturn does a fine job, coaxing excellent performances from her supporting cast. Jane Press, with her thick New Jersey rasp, zebra-print Pat Benatar dress and Cats hair, captures the ‘80s. As Rally’s gauze-and-parapet girlfriend, Deborah Curtis nails the trust-fund theatricality of the 29-year-old virgin, channeling her passions into literary lust. But the most touching performance comes from Roo Hornady as Lillian Troy, Rally’s elderly New York agent and a former paramour of Barrymore’s, who waltzes through the play with a tubercular hack and a decadent flare.
Finally, big credit for this production’s success must be given to Laura Coté, who designed the set’s Brownstone interior (while caring for a brand new baby), and Leslie Krautkraemer, who serves as the production’s stage manager, lighting designer, props/costume mistress, and light- and sound-board operator.
Meanwhile, over in Salinas, Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy
The Cripple of Inishmaan opens this Friday. Set on an
island just off the coast of Ireland circa 1934, “Inishmaan”
tells the story of Cripple Billy (Troy Osteraa) and his
quest to become a Hollywood
An orphan whose parents mysteriously drowned shortly after his birth, Billy lives with two doting aunts in a village of eccentrics. With a gimp leg and a crooked arm, Billy is considered by most of his neighbors to be the town freak. Yet Billy is but one grotesque among many. There is his Aunt Kate (Jennifer Forbes), who holds conversations with stones, Johnnypateenmike (Richard Courtney), who scurries around gossiping, and good old Helen (Erin Thompson) who assassinates livestock for pay.
When a Hollywood crew comes to Ireland to film a documentary, Billy sees it as a chance to become a movie star, and escape his miserable life.
Director Jeff McGrath says he was drawn to the play’s honesty. “The characters are all genuine and really funny,” he says. “You can’t have a level of pretense living in that harsh environment.”
Speaking of environment: look closely at Dohn Grube’s set design. To convey the barren landscape of the lonely Irish island, he bought old clothing by the pound from a thrift shop and sculpted it into rocks, walls and even a table.
Incidentally, Martin McDonagh, the young Irish playwright who penned The Cripple of Inishmaan, readily admits that theater is just a stepping stone to his real goal: Hollywood.
The Cripple of Irishmaan opens fri at 8pm at the
Western Stage, with additional performances Sat-Sun.
I Hate Hamlet plays Fri-Sun at The Magic Circle Center. See theater listings for complete info.