Tuesday and Wednesday a week ago, Jean and I drove to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to catch the opening performance of “I Hate Hamlet” at the Totem Pole Playhouse, billed as “PA’S Premiere Professional Summer Theatre.”
Do not be concerned, though. It was a real Arlington event. Twelve Arlingtonians, all friends of Delegate Al Eisenberg and his wife, Sharon Davis, trekked to see their son, Matt, play the starring role of Andrew Rally, a well-known TV actor who is going “legitimate” on Broadway with some trepidation. For one thing, he hates the play he is to star in, William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet!”
Matt was not the only Arlingtonian in the play. Ray Ficca of South Arlington played the ghost of John Barrymore. Ficca is also the Artistic Director of the Totem Pole Theater. Matt did not catch the theater bug until after he graduated from college. Arlingtonians have seen him at the Synetic Theater in “Animal Farm” and “Frankenstein,” (for which he received a Helen Hayes Award nomination) or The Charter Theatre in “Am I Black Enough Yet?”
After checking in to our motel, we gathered at Chambersburg’s elegant restaurant, The Orchards, for a great pre-theater dinner. Then we drove a few miles to the theater, back off the road in the woods. It is a charming and rustic venue, perfect for summer theater.
The play, too, is perfect for Summer Theater, light hearted and very amusing. It opened on Broadway in 1991, and one of its actors, Adam Arkin, won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor that year.
The curtain rose on the rather baroque two-story living room reminiscent of the famous Dakota apartment house on Central Park West in New York. It was John Barrymore’s apartment during his frequent New York performances. In fact, Barrymore still lives there!
Andrew Rally, played by Matt, is a famous television star who comes into New York to burnish his reputation by playing Hamlet on the Broadway stage. The only problem is that he hates the play and the apartment. His life is complicated further by the fact that his rich girlfriend is a virgin, and plans to stay that way until they are married. It is a tough row to hoe.
Rally’s real estate agent conducts a séance along with Rally, his agent (who long ago had an affair with Barrymore) and his girlfriend. When Rally bursts out “I hate Hamlet,” lightening flashes and we see Barrymore enter in full Hamlet regalia, though seen only by Rally. Barrymore lurks in the room throughout the rest of the play, guiding Rally and in the end having a brief fling with his ex-girlfriend. He also seduces Rally’s girlfriend! Barrymore was a true rake!
Act Two opens with the group preparing to go to the theater for opening night, Rally in full Hamlet regalia, complete with a huge codpiece. While still expressing some trepidation, he is ready to go. Unfortunately, he is awful and his awfulness is hilariously portrayed by Rally himself. But he has been moved by the experience and in the end decides to turn down a lucrative TV offer to devote himself to the legitimate stage.
The acting is consistently excellent and the play is very funny. At breakfast the next morning, the Eisenbergs told us that Matt will probably move to California to pursue a movie career. It is a great move, exporting Arlington’s fabulous culture to the four corners of the earth!