With that bit of dated snobbery in mind, we can see where Andy Rally, star of "L.A. Medical," is coming from in Paul Rudnick's 1991 comedy "I Hate Hamlet." Astutely directed by Edward Brennan for the Hampton Theatre Company, the offstage theater farce becomes a richer experience than I remember. Broadway critics complained that Rudnick's glib humor rarely rose above its one-liners. Not so in this delightfully nuanced resurrection.
The title is spoken by James Patrick Cronin's Andy, who's about to decline Joe Papp's invitation to play Hamlet for Shakespeare in the Park. Cronin conveys the insecurity of a star whose success owes more to a camera-friendly face than the method acting he studied. More disconcerting is the woman he's pursuing: She remains a virgin at 29. Deirdre -- a flaky romantic as played by Julie McKay -- had such a happy childhood, she refuses to spoil it. (Would Charlie Sheen put up with that?)
Andy's real estate broker (Lydia Franco-Hodges) and agent (Diana Marbury) double-nag him about Hamlet. The broker shows Andy an apartment where John Barrymore once lived (Tudor haunt by James Ewing and Marbury, eerie lighting by Sebastian Paczynski); the agent confesses her long-ago fling with JB. They're countered by Andy's huckster-producer (sleazy-chic as played by Edward Kassar) who regards TV as superior to theater because "you don't have to pay attention."
But it's Barrymore himself who convinces Andy. While the broker fancies herself a medium, her seance has nothing to do with Barrymore's ghost: His spirit is summoned anywhere, anytime an actor assumes the role of the Danish prince.
Joel Leffert, who grew up in Plainview, owns the role of Barrymore from the moment he asks, "Am I dead or just incredibly drunk?" His flourishing movements in tights (Teresa Lebrun's costumes) call attention to himself, as we imagine Barrymore would, like a second-nature ham. Though he indulges Barrymore's lush reputation for wine and women, Leffert reserves enough dignity that we're moved by his soliloquy of regret. That, plus Andy's glimmer of brilliance by Cronin, offers moving testimonial to art's connection to life. We suspect Barrymore would approve.