Was Hamlet Jewish? Well, he was very attached to his mother, prone to morbid introspection and neurotic self-doubt, and tended to overthink situations. You might say he was a classic, albeit extremely articulate, kvetch. Plus, the play itself is remarkably morose, with so many dead bodies littering the stage at the end of the play, there’s no one left to take the curtain call.
But whether Shakespeare’s tragic hero was Jewish or not, the author of “I Hate Hamlet” certainly is. Paul Rudnick’s 1991 comedy is being presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in the University Theater. Menorah is offering discount group tickets for the July 20, 1 pm matinee. The Gold Circle group discount tickets are $40 (normally $54). The deadline to reserve seats is July 8. Tickets are available on first-come basis.
Following the play, I will lead a discussion about Rudnick and the Jewish lens with which he sees the world.
I first came into contact with Rudnick many years ago without realizing it when a column started to appear in the now-defunct film magazine, Premiere. Titled, “If You Ask Me,” under the pen name Libby Gelman-Waxner, a self-proclaimed Jewish American Manhattan hausfrau. The satirical reviews parodied their fictitious author, whose meandering, shallow and hilarious attempts at film criticism were always about herself.
As a regular contributor to the New Yorker, Rudnick continues to write overtly Jewish humor, as this list of suggested additional questions for the Passover seder reveals.
Early in his 25-year career, he also began to write for the stage with instant success. In 1991 while living in John Barrymore’s 1920s apartment, the top floor of a Greenwich Village brownstone, Rudnick was inspired to write “I Hate Hamlet.” The story focuses on a young TV star who, as he’s about to play Hamlet, is visited by the ghost of Barrymore. The play enjoyed a long Broadway run.
Rudnick, who is openly gay, scored his greatest success two years later with “Jeffrey” a humor-laden play about AIDS which struck terror in the hearts of NY theater producers. The taboo comedy went on to be a hit, as was Rudnick’s screen adaptation.
The New York Times called Rudnick, “a born show-biz wit with perfect pitch for priceless one-liners, and called the film “Just the sort of play Oscar Wilde might have written had he lived in 1990s Manhattan.” Rudnick won the coveted Obie as well as numerous awards.
Rudnick also published numerous novels as well as essays, and began working as a script doctor. Although he went uncredited for his work on “The Addams Family,” he was hired as screenwriter for “The Addams Family Values.”
Perhaps encouraged by “Jeffrey’s” success, Rudnick wrote the screenplay for “In and Out,” a 1994 heartwarming coming out comedy. The film became one of mainstream Hollywood’s few attempts at a gay comedy, and was widely noted at the time for a 10-second kiss between Kevin Kline and Tom Selleck.
Despite his ongoing success as a screenwriter, essayist and novelist, plays are still Rudnick’s favored literary form, and they have been regularly produced around the world. When reviewing Rudnick’s “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” (about God’s creation of Adam and Steve), New York Times critic Ben Brantley declared that:
Line by line, Mr. Rudnick may be the funniest writer for the stage in the United States today.”
“I Hate Hamlet,” written by Paul Rudnick and directed by Colorado Shakespeare Festival producing artistic director Timothy Orr, with a talkback on Paul Rudnick by Kathryn Bernheimer.
Sunday, July 20, 1 pm. Gold Circle group discount tickets, $40 (normally $54). Deadline July 8; Tickets available on first-come basis.