White Rock Players’ next production, I Hate Hamlet, directed by Dale Kelly (June 3-20 at Coast Capital Playhouse), is a supernatural comedy with somewhat nightmarish overtones.
Matt Loop as hapless leading man Andrew Rally – an actor who gained almost instant TV fame early in his career – suddenly finds himself diving into one of the most challenging roles in theatre; Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
His girlfriend, his agent – even his realtor – love that he’s tackling the melancholy Dane, but Andrew’s not so sure he can do the part justice.
And he’s conflicted because Hollywood and the prospect of easy money from a new TV role are beckoning.
It certainly doesn’t help at all that Andrew’s ghostly coach is the most demanding of all imaginable critics, the shade of legendary actor John Barrymore, one of the most famous Hamlets in history.
The famously boozy womanizer still haunts his former residence, Andrew’s gothic New York apartment – and he’s determined not to let Andrew off the hook in his new stage assignment.
“It’s the perfect storm of trouble for poor Andrew,” said Loop.
“He’s ultimately a likable guy – maybe he doesn’t have all the qualities you’d want him to have, but he’s working at it. You really do feel for him in his struggles.”
Paul Rudnick’s 1991 play provides a second White Rock role for Loop, following his entertaining turn as vainglorious Roman general Miles Gloriosus in last year’s A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.
It also a happy reunion with two fellow ‘Forum’ castmates Rebekah McEwan, playing Andrew’s theoretically ‘ditzy’ girlfriend Deirdre and Pat McDermott, as impatient television producer Gary Peter Lefkowitz.
Rounding out the cast are three stalwart players, Sheila Keating as Andrew’s eccentric agent, Lillian Troy; Coleen Byberg as his realtor, Felicia Dantine, and John Cousins as the ghostly Barrymore.
“It’s probably one of my favourite shows yet,” said Loop, a Vancouver-based film and stage actor now marking 10 years since he first trod the boards at age 16 in a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth for Armstrong’s Caravan Theatre (he also studied theatre at UVic and film acting at Vancouver Film School).
“There’s a whole lot of stuff going on, including a swordfighting scene, and there’s quite a shift in character for Andrew. In the first act he’s more of an average guy, but in the second, he’s very much in the character of Hamlet; more bombastic and theatrical.
“Andrew’s a guy who has been catapulted into accidental fame and stardom – he’s sort of like Neil Patrick Harris in Doogie Howser, MD. The show has done well for a while, but now that’s over – now what? He’s been very much a Joe Shmo thrust into the limelight.”
Central to the dilemma, Loop said, is the fact that Andrew’s most celebrated gig to date scarcely tested his acting chops.
“There’s a great monologue in which he admits it to himself,” he said. “He’s afraid that they could have used the poster to play the role instead of him – and now he’s jumping into the greatest role in theatre.”
Compounding Andrew’s conflict is his relationship with Deirdre, a romantic obsessed with theatre lore and Barrymore in particular.
She and Andrew met in theatre classes in New York, but to this point she’s not been sleeping with him, Loop said – a situation that seems likely to change once he takes the apartment and accept the role of Hamlet.
“He’s suddenly become a demi-god to her,” Loop said. “It’s kind of like her dream come true. To her it’s a sign that (their relationship) was meant to be, that it was all meant to happen.
“To him, that’s ‘great, but…’ He’s not sure he can live up to it. It’s just a lot more pressure.”
Loop said he’s really enjoying playing against Keating’s take on Lillian (“a really hilarious, elderly German lady, a mother figure concerned about Andrew and his well-being”) and Byberg, as the eccentric psychic realtor Felicia, who has “somehow involved herself in his life,” and holds the seance that liberates the ghost of Barrymore from supernatural limbo.
And he’s glad Cousins is cast as the imperious, larger-than-life Barrymore, whose carousing propensities seem to have lasted well beyond the grave.
“He’s really great,” he said. “We have to do a sword fight together and it’s been very easy, even when, once or twice, we’ve screwed it up.
“He’s been fantastic to work with – and he’s also married to Coleen, who plays Felicia, which makes it kind of natural when Barrymore gets all sexual with her!”
Coast Capital Playhouse is located at 1532 Johnston Rd. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for students and seniors. To reserve, call 604-536-7535.