Woodward Shakespeare Festival kicks off its season this weekend with a new production of “Hamlet.”
And from Good Company Players, opening the very same night, comes a new production of Paul Rudnick’s 1991 comedy “I Hate Hamlet.”
That pretty much covers all the bases, wouldn’t you say?
GCP’s Elizabeth Fiester, who is directing “I Hate Hamlet,” swears that it’s all a coincidence.
“We did not plan to open opposite Woodward Shakespeare,” she says. “But I say go see both: You can never have too much ‘Hamlet’ in your life.”
Before we get down to details about each production, let’s get past the easy joke and acknowledge what you likely already suspect: Both shows are for “Hamlet” fans.
Shakespeare’s version is, well, the most famous play in the world. And Rudnick’s riff of a play, which follows a beleaguered popular television actor who is nervous about performing the difficult title role for a New York audience, uses the notoriety of the show as comic fodder. Even if you can’t remember much about the plot of “Hamlet,” you’ve likely absorbed enough through popular culture to get the jokes.
Here’s a rundown on each show:
Setting: Director Broderic Beard, who also plays the title role, says not to worry about a specific place or time. “The show simply exists in its own world,” he says. “I’d rather have my audience give up early on trying to place the setting, so they can enjoy the story without getting hung up on clothing or props. The closest you’ll get to a time period here is Neo-Victorian. A little bit modern, a little bit classical.”
Running time: Beard, who recently played the title role in a streamlined version (just 90 minutes) of “Hamlet” presented by Theatre Ventoux in April, estimates the Woodward Shakespeare production will run about two hours and 20 minutes with intermission. (The unabridged version runs about four hours, by comparison.)
Director’s vision: This won’t be a “Hamlet” for purists. One of Beard’s influences is Woodward Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” performed in 2014, which added short, silent scenes that didn’t exist in the script. “We’ve also moved around bits and pieces of dialogue from some scenes to others. In some cases, this was done to radically change the plot, while in other cases to clarify weak relationships. It really is amazing how much of a difference a few words can make.”
Cast: Along with Beard as Hamlet, the cast includes Thomas Nance (Claudius), Lisa Taber (Gertrude) and Victoria Lichti (Ophelia).
Looking ahead: Woodward Shakespeare is only producing two shows instead of three this summer. Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” runs Aug. 11-Sept. 10. “A significant effort has been made to tie this show to our next,” Beard says of “Hamlet.”
Details: Opens Thursday, June 16, and runs 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through July 16. Woodward Shakespeare Festival Stage at Woodward Park. www.woodwardshakespeare.org, 559-927-3485. General admission is free; $10 reserved tickets in the first two rows are available online. $5 per car park entry fee applies.
‘I Hate Hamlet’
The plot: As he prepares to play Hamlet in New York, TV actor Andy Rally (Chase Stubblefield) moves into the old apartment of John Barrymore (CJ Dion), known as the greatest American Hamlet. Andy’s nervous at playing the role summons Barrymore’s ghost, who wants to help. “Once Andrew accepts that he is stuck with Barrymore until Barrymore can teach him all he knows about the role of playing Hamlet, the fun begins,” says Fiester, the GCP director.
Barrymore’s legacy: He was the son of the famous Barrymore acting family, Fiester says, and the grandfather of Drew Barrymore. A famous matinee idol, women would swoon over him in the 1920s and ’30s. “That is one of the reasons he was picked to play Hamlet, much the way Andy Rally is picked,” she says.
Production history: Rudnick’s comedy opened on Broadway in 1991.
No prerequisite needed: “It’s really a play about facing your fears and how doing that can change you for the better,” Fiester says.
Details: Opens Thursday, June 16, and runs through Aug. 14. 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave. www.gcplayers.com, 559-266-0660. $20, $17 students and seniors.