Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Hating Shakespeare: Comedy sets Hamlet’s mental demons in the City of Angels

Jason, I know you’re gonna have to stare at Sean’s crotch, but keep your gaze there,” said Communication junior Matt Ratner at a Sunday night rehearsal for his production of “I Hate Hamlet.”

Such hilarious, if not awkward, stage directions are typical for the cast of “I Hate Hamlet” — a show that is both a tribute to and satire of theatrical art — in this weekend’s Lovers and Madmen production.

“We (in the acting community) have a tendency to take ourselves far too seriously,” Ratner said. “The luxury of just enjoying something is lost, the joy of just forgetting about everything for a couple of hours and being entertained. This play reminds us that there’s tremendous value in being able to provide that.”

But for all the play’s sexual innuendo, chiding at the acting theory and witty one-liners (Weinberg senior Sean Ryan nails memorable phrases like “I’m a Freudian bonus-coupon”), Ratner said “I Hate Hamlet” isn’t “just silly for the sake of being silly.”

The play, written by Paul Rudnick, had a brief run on Broadway beginning with its 1991 premiere at the Walter Kerr Theater in New York City and is semi-autobiographical. Like the main character Andrew Rally, Rudnick moved into an apartment owned by the famed John Barrymore, widely considered to be one of the greatest Shakespearean Hamlets of all time (and yes, Drew Barrymore’s grandfather).

In the play, the ghost of Barrymore returns to the apartment to impart the courage to burnt-out daytime television actor Andrew, who must perform perhaps the most difficult role an actor can play — Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Andrew faces internal pressure to master Hamlet as well as sexual frustration toward his chaste, Shakespeare-spouting girlfriend, Deirdre, and external pressure from Hollywood to “sell out” and return to unfulfilling but lucrative television roles.

His journey results in memorable dialogue with witty and poignant moments, executed by Ratner’s six-person cast. Ratner makes his NU directorial debut with “I Hate Hamlet” — one of this year’s three special-projects by Lovers and Madmen, NU’s student-produced Shakespearean theater troupe.

Ratner said he immediately knew he wanted to direct a production of “I Hate Hamlet” after seeing one in his hometown of Cleveland. Eighty students auditioned for the six parts in a play that is “above all, a tribute to actors,” and examines, through Andrew’s character, what Ratner calls “that push-pull between work actors enjoy and work that will make them money.”

“In the end (‘I Hate Hamlet’) is about the leap of faith everyone takes when deciding to go into an artistic field and the passion involved in making that choice,” said Communication freshman Jason Kellerman, who plays Andrew in the play.

As the actors finish their run-through, Ratner is able to give directions that don’t necessarily focus on body parts: “We just need to go over some blocking, but nothing was like … heinously awful.”

Heinously awful it’s not. But is “I Hate Hamlet” the witty, escapist entertainment that attracted Ratner to its script or a thoughtful commentary on the art of theater? Look no further than the post-run-through giggles of the cast and the words of John Barrymore himself for an answer: “If theater wasn’t fun, no one would do it.”

“I Hate Hamlet” runs Thursday, Nov. 11 at 8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, at 8 and 11 p.m.in the Jones Residential College great room. Tickets are $5 for students and can be purchased at the door or reserved at www.loversandmadmen.com.4

Medill freshman Amanda Palleschi is a PLAY writer. She can be reached at [email protected].

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Hating Shakespeare: Comedy sets Hamlet’s mental demons in the City of Angels