John Barrymore, legend of stage and screen, may have died in 1942, but he's been making a comeback, at least in North County theaters. In the North Coast Repertory Theatre's world premiere Faded Glory, Bruce Turk portrayed a young, boozing Barrymore full of mischief; now, in Intrepid Shakespeare Company's production of Paul Rudnick's I Hate Hamlet, stentorian-voiced Ruff Yeager is playing a dead but boozing and full of mischief Barrymore, who's come back as a ghost to empower an insecure TV actor named Andrew Rally (Francis Gercke).
In both productions, the Barrymore character commands every scene he's in, but much more so in I Hate Hamlet, in which he is the heart and soul of the show.
Yeager has an actor's field day (the real Barrymore had a lot of those, of course) in this production, directed by Christopher Williams. It costars Gercke, Tom Stephenson (recently so stellar in Intrepid's far more sober All My Sons), Gerilyn Brault (as a real-estate agent who sounds like a brassier Rhoda Morganstern), dignified Dagmar Fields as Andrew's agent and winsome Brooke McCormick Paul as the avowed 29-year-old virgin who has Andrew's frustration button blinking red.
This lightweight comedy's conflict concerns whether Andrew will forgo a mega-big TV-series deal (playing a schoolteacher with superpowers by night) or go the serious-actor's route and perform the role of Hamlet in New York's Shakespeare in the Park. Adding to his psychological conundrum is the fact that he's residing in the late John Barrymore's NYC apartment—as is Barrymore's ghost, which, for some reason, a few of the characters can see while others can't. Gercke is adequate in the angst and anxiety department, but he is dwarfed (literally and figuratively) by the towering Yeager in every scene they share.
Rudnick's living-room comedy, produced on Broadway way back in 1991, does raise some questions about what it means to be an actor—in this case, is it better to fail at Shakespeare than to succeed at hawking a snack food on TV with a puppet? Much of the time, though, it's merely rambunctious ghost-in-the-house silliness. Could be sitcom material after all.
I Hate Hamlet runs through July 19 at the SDA Performing Arts Centre in Encinitas. $25-$35. intrepidshakespeare.com
Ether Dome: The West Coast premiere of a play, based on true events in the 19th century, about two pioneers of surgical anesthesia—a trailblazing dentist and his ambitious student. Opens July 13 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com
In a Forest, Dark and Deep: Neil LaBute's tense play explores the complex relationship between a university dean and her redneck carpenter brother. Opens July 11 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Into the Woods: A reinvented version of the musical that brings together classic fairy-tale characters returns to where it premiered in 1986. Opens July 12 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Jade Heart: A drama that jumps backward and forward in time to tell the story of a Chinese girl who was adopted as an infant by an American woman. Opens in previews on July 11 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
Middle School Sessions: A free staged reading of a new play about a mother intent on protecting her son from bullying. It happens at 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 14, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Pageant: Each show's audience picks a winner from six contestants in a beauty-and-talent competition in this musical comedy. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it opens in previews on July 10 at The Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Romance / Romance: This is a musical that's really two short plays—in Act 1 and Act 2—about (yep, you guessed it) romance, relating to each other only with one shared song. It opens in previews on July 9 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
I Hate Hamlet: A serious actor must decide whether to play Hamlet in Shakespeare in the Park or sell out and do a big-money TV series. Presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it runs through July 19 at SDA Performing Arts Centre in Encinitas.
Romeo and Juliet: A boy + a girl + a priest + two warring families = tragedy. Through July 20 at the Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Disenchanted: In this musical satire, fairytale females like Pocahontas, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and Hua Mulan strike back at exploitation. Through July 26 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Othello: A bitter soldier, Iago, schemes against his general, Othello, and, as usually happens in a Shakespearean tragedy, lots of people die. Through July 27 at The Old Globe Theatre. oldglobe.org
Bare: A Pop Opera: Life and love get complicated for the students at a Catholic boarding school. Through Aug. 3 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
The Orphan of Zhao: A reimagined version of an ancient Chinese play about a child who grows up only to learn about the awful tragedies that surrounded his infancy. Through Aug. 3 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Geeks: The Musical: A satirical take on the nerds who flock to Comic-Con. Presented by Pysphi Productions, it runs through Aug. 16 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. geeksmusicalsd.com
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net