I Hate Hamlet. I Hate Hamlet is a bit like the curate's egg: hilariously funny in parts, and in others so idiotic that you're embarrassed for the actors. Why is the radiant Jamie Ann Romero wasting her talents wafting about as Deirdre, a stagestruck 29-year-old virgin who'll have sex with her boyfriend Andrew only if he plays Hamlet in Central Park? Why is the redoubtably talented Martha Harmon Pardee sporting an excruciating New York accent as real-estate agent Felicia and uttering cries like a calf stabbed in the neck while supposedly conducting a seance intended to summon the ghost of her dead mother and — with mom's help — also that of the great American actor, John Barrymore? Andrew, star of a television series called L.A. Medical, has been hired to play Hamlet not because of his talent, but because his fame will swell the audience. Andrew is aware of this, hates and is intimidated by the play, and – most important -- has a major case of cold feet. He's moving into an apartment once inhabited by Barrymore for the duration — hence Felicia's seance. Of course, Barrymore shows up. And at this point, the evening becomes — at least for a while — both smart and laugh-out-loud funny. First, because author Paul Rudnick finds his feet here. Second, because Sam Gregory plays Barrymore, and from his first entrance — "Am I dead or just incredibly drunk?" — he pulls out all the stops. He hams, swoons, mugs, drinks everything in sight, becomes acerbic on the topic of Method acting ("We must never confuse truth with asthma") and wistful in thinking back on his own boozy, womanizing life. Steven Cole Hughes is equally riveting as television producer Gary. We all know television is generally bland, obvious and dumb, but Rudnick skewers the medium with biting accuracy, and Cole delivers the barbs with blindly magnificent self-satisfaction. When it comes to Shakespeare himself, Rudnick seems to want to have it both ways. He provides lots of easy wisecracks, but when Andrew asks for acting advice, Barrymore's response is a quietly moving rendition of Hamlet's "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you." What you ultimately get here is a mix of cleverness, cheap shots, dopey visual jokes, some astonishingly good comic acting, and a whole bunch of scenes that go on way too long. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 9, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, coloradoshakes.org.
Shrek: the Musical. There are a lot of things to like about Shrek: The Musical at Boulder's Dinner Theatre. They include the Dragon, created by Cory Gilstrap and manipulated by a handful of actors. Blessed with the rich, seductive voice of the inimitable Amanda Earls, she's a riveting, literally huge presence. And there are many other spectacular special effects. All the leads are excellent. Even as written, Fiona is no regular fairy-tale princess: Not many princesses would fall for a smelly, hulking guy with horns and a nasty green face. But Norrell Moore takes the role several steps beyond whatever the script requires, endowing Fiona with huge amounts of spring, cheek and sheer verve. Seth Caikowski plays Shrek with a pleasantly slight Scottish accent, and the kindness and diffidence he projects provide a fine contrast with all the cavorting going on around him. In his furry gray Donkey suit, Tyrell Rae is the perfect foil, preening, whining and strutting. Trapped on his knees, his lank black hair falling around his face, Scott Severtson has loads of evil fun as Lord Farquaad. The script is by Pulitzer winner David Lindsay-Abaire, which means thatShrek is way less dumb than the average Disney musical and full of clever, silly references; a couple of moments are downright Monty Python-esque. Though the songs tend to be mediocre — the requisite end-of-the-show uplift is provided by the Monkees' ancient "I'm a Believer," which seems a sad confession of composer Jeanine Tesori's deficiencies — they're delivered with such verve it almost doesn't matter, and the entire production is a delight. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 6, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder. 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com
. Reviewed May 29.
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The Tempest. Prospero in The Tempest, now receiving a checkered production at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, rules over a magical island. He is the rightful Duke of Milan, but his position was usurped by his brother many years earlier, and he was cast out to sea on a rickety craft with his baby daughter, Miranda. A couple of supernatural creatures inhabit his island: Ariel, the evanescent spirit of air, and the sullen man-beast Caliban. Having learned that his enemies are on a sea voyage, Prospero calls up a terrible storm to deposit them on his shores, and one of the play's central questions is whether he'll take his revenge once they're in his power or show them mercy. Naturally, being Shakespeare, there are depths upon depths of meaning here. The Tempest is about magic and the magic of creation, and Prospero is often thought of as an artist, a creator of worlds, and a stand-in for Shakespeare himself. There's also a lot of musing about kingship and rightful rule, a topic that fascinated the Elizabethans. Director Geoffrey Kent, who staged last year's miraculous A Midsummer Night's Dream, has said that he sees the relationship between Prospero and Miranda as central: Prospero has been able to protect his daughter in isolation, but the intrusion of other people – particularly the young Prince Ferdinand, to whom Miranda swiftly and joyously gives up her heart -- creates circumstances he can't fully control. There's a lot to like about this production. It's lively and inventive and shows a respect for Shakespeare's language that makes the dialogue, the play's overall contour and the ideas raised clean and comprehensible. Other elements are iffy. Ariel clambers, falls, catches herself and turns upside down on a drift of aerial silk, and while at times the effect is dazzling, at others it distracts. Some tricks and tics I could have done without altogether: the bolt of blue cloth wafted around by a group of young women to represent the ocean; Prospero voicing his demand for silence — "No tongue" — like a contemporary dad forbidding his teenager to deep-kiss. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through July 31, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, coloradoshakes.org.