Comedy in tragedy at Pendragon

Andrew Phillip Rosen, Rachel Kemp and Burdette Parks star in Pendragon Theatre’s “I Hate Hamlet.” (Photo provided)

SARANAC LAKE — Even the greatest of tragedies can produce some levity.

The Pendragon Theatre premiered its production of Paul Rudnick’s “I Hate Hamlet” Friday night to much applause. The play will run through the month of August.

If you’ve attended high school or seen Disney’s “The Lion King,” you know the basic story of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” — a prince must decide whether to take action after a power-hungry uncle murders the boy’s father and usurps the throne, and in the end, everyone dies.

“I Hate Hamlet” isn’t a retelling of the tragic play, but rather uses it as a source of comedy and hope.

The play follows a young actor who’s seen as more of a product than an artist. After portraying a doctor on a recently canceled prime-time melodrama, he leaves L.A. And heads for New York, where he’s been cast as Hamlet for a Shakespeare in the Park production. His new apartment was once the residence of John Barrymore, a deceased actor who also portrayed Hamlet in his hay day. Andrew is unsure whether he even wants to do the play, and after he shouts the words “I Hate Hamlet,” he is visited by a pseudo-ghostly Barrymore, who tries to coerce him into taking the role. As Andrew prepares for the play, he has to decide whether he cares about real acting or just making money as a dime-a-dozen pretty face.

Burdette Parks and Andrew Phillip Rosen go head to head in Pendragon Theatre’s “I Hate Hamlet,” which opens Friday. (Photo provided)

Philip Rosen, an actor, plays Andrew, also an actor.

“It’s interesting because you’re always drawing from your own experience, but in this role, I’m drawing very directly from myself,” Rosen said. “Like when I’m about to read the soliloquy, I’m basically just doing warm-ups you learn in an acting class.”

Like his character, Philip wasn’t always the biggest Shakespeare fan either.

“There was a time where I thought Shakespeare was a little overrated,” he said. “I thought he was a little too hard to understand when you’re just watching it. Then I saw a production of “Othello” at the Globe Theatre. I was standing the whole time, but the play was so engaging that I forgot I was standing for hours. As I’ve grown, I started to like Shakespeare more and more.”

This is Joanna Tyler’s second play of the season with Pendragon. First, she portrayed the perfect woman in Norm Foster’s “The Love List,” and soon she can be seen in Jane Austin’s “Sense and Sensibility,” albeit a more humorous version than the source material.

This time around she played the protagonist’s real estate agent, channeling a little bit of Fran Drescher with bright outfits, large jewelry and a distinct “New Yawk” accent.

“Fran Drescher was channeled, but at the same time, I can’t go full Fran,” she said. “Nobody wants that. To be honest, I’ve had this New York character that I’ve been playing since I was a kid, and so I just sort of tapped into her. It’s based loosely on some of my relatives. I don’t know what it is, but it’s kind of an easy accent for me.”

There’s plenty of laughs to be had. Whether it’s watching Andrew’s goofy acting exercises as he prepares to read the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy or an uncomfortably long focus on Barrymore’s bulging codpiece, the actors reference serious source material in a comedic light.