Rennie on Rudnick and the Relevance of Shakespeare
“At their best, dreamers, and at their worst…dreamers.”
Jason Rennie describes his take on “theatre people” when asked about directing the upcoming staged reading of I Hate Hamlet for Intrepid on Monday evening. According to the playwright, Paul Rudnick, the play is “overrun with theatrical types,” and makes a humorous effort to capture the New York stage scene in all of its gusto and glory.
First performed in 1991, I Hate Hamlet is based on Rudnick’s actual experience renting a New York City apartment that once belonged to legendary actor John Barrymore. After imagining the stories within the walls of the fourth floor Washington Square brownstone, Rudnick decided to bring them to life in a play. Hilarity ensued.
“Some of the experiences in the play are kind of nod to people in his life at the time he was there,” Jason explains, mentioning characters such as Felicia the real estate agent (played by Brooke McCormick) and the Lillian, the theatrical agent (played by Rhona Gold) who is based on a woman who historically romanced Barrymore’s son-in-law within the walls of the apartment in question.
In the story, the main character is an actor who has been offered an opportunity to play Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park. Needless to say, this part requires a little more chops than his regular television gigs, and the appropriate level of panic ensues.
Enter the ghost of John Barrymore.
Ruff Yeager will be portraying Barrymore in Monday’s reading and promises to be less of a handful than the actor who originated the role on Broadway, British thespian Nicol Williamson. In a detailed account for The New Yorker in 2007, Rudnick spelled out the worst-case-scenarios which came to life during the opening of what would be his first play on Broadway, including Williamson’s drunkenness, lewdness, and missed performances. The last straw had occurred when he purposefully struck a fellow actor with a sword during a stage combat scene. That actor promptly left the stage and never returned to the show.
Even though the show’s original opening was somewhat plagued, Jason maintains that it is one of his favorite plays of all time, and that he has been begging Intrepid artistic directors Sean and Christy to consider it for a while. With Hamlet opening February 2 on Intrepid’s mainstage, this first staged reading of the year at the Encinitas Library seemed to be the perfect opportunity to showcase the links between contemporary humor and Shakespeare.
Not up on your Shakespeare? Never fear. You’ll still laugh.
“It’s not so much an insider’s play,” says Jason, “but there are a few inside jokes. It’s a nice tongue and cheek homage to theatre. It allows us to poke fun of ourselves and laugh.”
You might even recognize a line or two, says Jason. “It doesn’t preach on Shakespeare, but the Shakespearean lines that are present do have a wonderful resonance. It reminds us that these speeches in these plays do still have value and meaning.”
Is there any truth to the thought of Hamlet as one of the most daunting plays in the canon? “There is such a heavy connotation with that play,” says Jason. “It carries a great deal of baggage. But at its core, it is still a quintessential revenge tragedy that centers around one young man and the conflict within himself.”
Ultimately, the pursuit of the stage translates now just as much as it did when Hamlet was first performed hundreds of years ago, which is what continues to make theatre and storytelling relevant and universal.
“With theatre, you have to look beyond the reality,” says Jason. “It’s odd because we are preying upon people’s imaginations as much as possible when creating productions.”
He pauses, and then adds, “Yet it is so absolutely necessary for us as human beings to be a part of that.” — T.T.
I Hate Hamlet (a staged reading). Monday, January 28, 6:30 pm wine reception, 7:00 pm performance. Directed by Jason D. Rennie and featuring Ruff Yeager, Jo Anne Glover, Steven Lone, Rhona Gold, and Brooke McCormick. Encinitas Library, Community Room 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas 92024. $15. You must RSVP in advance in order to attend. You may purchase your ticket in advance here or rsvp to email@example.com and pay with cash or check at the door. Subscribe to a “Flex-Pass” Subscription Package and save $5. Packages come in 3-Play, 6-Play, 9-Play, or 12-Play passes. If you have any questions, please call the Intrepid Office at (760) 295-7541.