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Vienna Theatre Company Hates Hamlet

Upcoming production is a modern riff on Shakespeare.

Shakespeare fans should not be put off by the title of the Vienna Theatre Company's upcoming production, "I Hate Hamlet," which will be showing for the next three weekends at the Vienna Community Center.

This modern comedy follows a young television actor who learns to appreciate the work of Shakespeare, which he initially views as "algebra onstage," explained the show's producer, Barbara Chaudet.

Andrew Rally's life is full of mixed blessings: he is invited to Manhattan to play the prestigious role of Hamlet, which he finds distasteful. His glamorous girlfriend is a steadfast virgin. The magnificent, gothic apartment he moves into is haunted. The ghost is that of John Barrymore, who was considered the greatest Shakespearean actor of the 1920s and '30s, and who undertakes to tutor Rally. But Barrymore is a drunken egomaniac.

"He's trying to figure out who he is," Chaudet's daughter, Suzanne Chaudet Maloney, said of Rally. Chaudet Maloney is the play's director and artistic director.

Chaudet noted that one of the story's main themes is the contest between money and art.

"I Hate Hamlet" was written in 1991 by Paul Rudnick, who has authored various screenplays, novels and theater productions, including the Obie-winning "Jeffery" and "Regrets Only," which opened in New York late last November.

The company's board of directors chose the play "because it was funny and well-written, and it balanced out the season well," said Chaudet Maloney. It has become the group's tradition to perform a comedy in the winter.

THE PLAY FEATURES six actors, backed by a relatively large stage crew. "There are three and a half people behind the scenes for each actor," said Chaudet. "That's a lot of folks." With such a small cast, the script had to develop some broad characters.

"I like [Barrymore] because he's just so over-the-top," Jeff Breslow said of his character, noting that the role lets him perform scenes of comedy, action, drama and romance. "It's a chance to do everything you dream about as an actor."

"This role is actually more similar to me in real life than anything I've played. He's just wittier and more charming," Andy Izquierdo said of Rally. "As Jeff was saying, you get to do a little bit of everything, and on top of that, you get a little bit of Shakespeare."

This is the third play in which Breslow and Izquierdo have performed together, although it is the first time either have worked with the Vienna Theatre Company. Returning to the Vienna Community Center stage are Tom Flatt as Rally's friend in the television industry, Jessie Roberts as his real estate agent and Harriet Pilger as his theatrical agent.

Making her community theater debut is Sarah Jackson, who plays Rally's buxom girlfriend, Deirdre. Jackson said she acted in high school and college and then "got a real job" and had not been onstage in 11 years when she read that the company was holding auditions. "So, I came and tried out, and I got the part," she said. "Everyone's been so nice and patient with me. They know I'm just getting back into it."

There may also be a more sinister side to the production. In the two months that the crew members have been preparing for their upcoming run, they have come to believe the play might carry a curse. "Several years ago, the Reston Community Players did this play," Chaudet said. During rehearsals, the actor playing Barrymore injured his knee. The same injury recently befell Breslow as he was practicing his role, necessitating a trip to the hospital. As a result, the sword-fighting scenes have been toned down a bit.

That's right. Sword fighting in 1986 Manhattan.