CEDAR CITY — For a taste of Shakespeare without having to commit to an entire evening of old English dialogue, SimonFest’s production of I Hate Hamlet is the perfect fit. As SimonFest Artistic Director Peter Sham said before the opening night performance, for a Hamlet performance, across town at the Utah Shakespeare Festival is the place, or alternatively, SimonFest for I Hate Hamlet will give a Hamlet experience. “But I guarantee you’ll laugh more over here,” Peter Sham said with a laugh, but he encouraged audiences to see both. “You’ll get more murders over there, more laughter over here.”

Show closes July 26, 2019.

All joking aside, a basic understanding of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is helpful, though not required to appreciate the humor and passion found in Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet. Based loosely on experiences from the playwright’s own life, I Hate Hamlet follows the story of fictional actor Andrew Rally (played by Trevor Messenger) who moves into a New York City apartment that was once occupied by the real-life actor John Barrymore who was known for, among other things, his interpretation of Hamlet in the early 1900s. Rally has recently been cast in the title role of Hamlet and has some misgivings about whether or not he can live up to the role. When the ghost of John Barrymore (played by Taylor Seth Hall) shows up in the apartment, Rally’s life takes more than one interesting turn.

Although it is difficult to pick one outstanding star among this strong cast, Hall’s portrayal of John Barrymore demands first attention. From his impassioned speeches to his dramatic body language, Hall owns the stage the minute he steps onto it. His deep voice resonates to the back of the theater, and his antics are awe-inspiring. Barrymore puts it best when he says, “I do not overact, I simply possess the emotional resources of 10 men,” and Hall portrays that statement perfectly.

Holding his own next to Hall’s commanding presence is Messenger’s portrayal of Andrew Rally. The pair has excellent on stage chemistry, polar opposites at some times and mirror images in others. Both men are clearly familiar and capable when it comes to delivering Shakespeare’s eloquent monologues, yet their ability to snap back and forth between such flowery language and more simple wit and humor is fantastic.

Offering a moral compass by which to guide the show, Rally’s girlfriend Deirdre McDavey (played by Sceri Sioux Ivers) is as passionate and capable in her delivery of Shakespeare as she is serious about her views on romance and love. McDavey’s decision to save herself for marriage—much to Rally’s chagrin—provides an excellent polarity to the moral flippancy of Barrymore’s earthly existence.

The epitome of the Hollywood reality comes to life in Rally’s friend and would-be cohort in a new acting scheme, Gary Peter Lefkowitz (played by Samuel Gaylord). Gaylord’s larger-than-life presence on stage, including his ability to cover more ground in his pacing than most actors, is a breath of energy into an already energetic show.

Both Lynn Hart, who plays Rally’s agent Lillian Troy, and Maycee Ham, who plays the real estate broker Felicia Dantine, turn in strong performances. Hart in particular clearly has a great deal of experience in the spotlight, and she proves to be a good match for Hall as Barrymore in the somewhat head-scratching final scene for Lillian.

The costuming for Felicia Dantine in the opening scene could be addressed by the costume staff. Although the character apparently calls for the short, tight skirt she wears, the constant need for the actress to adjust the length of said skirt is distracting, though not wholly out of line for the character.

There is much to love in SimonFest’s I Hate Hamlet, and it is worth a see. The actors bring their characters to life, and there is not a weak link in the show. With very little to complain about, the show entertains and gives that little taste of Shakespeare theater goers often crave. For a little Shakespeare and a lot of laughs, I Hate Hamlet is the show to see.

The SimonFest Theatre Company’s production of I Hate Hamlet plays in repertory at the Heritage Center Theater (105 N 100 E, Cedar City) on July 20 and 26, 2019 at 7 PM with a matinee on July 25, 2019 at 2 PM. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for children, and $20 for students and veterans. For more information, please visit their website.