Role Rings True for `I Hate Hamlet’ Star Stephen Caffrey

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
Dec. 10, 1995

It’s not coincidental that actor Stephen Caffrey is sporting a George Clooney-ish look these days. The star of Paul Rudnick’s play “I Hate Hamlet” portrays a character who used to be an actor on a popular series set in a hospital.

“I don’t want to make it sound like I’m basing it on him, but the character in the play is an actor who was on a television series called `L.A. Medical,’ ” Caffrey said. “And he leaves the series after five years and goes back to New York. So it was sort of like what would be the contemporary version of `L.A. Medical,’ and it was `ER,’ right? And George Clooney seemed like a good prototype?”

Caffrey, whose family lived in Wrigleyville for eight years, portrays Andrew, a TV star anxiously preparing for his debut as the great Dane. Though he’s been in many plays, including Rudnick’s “Cosmetic Surgery” and “Jeffrey,” Caffrey – like his character – had never played the great Dane before.

“When I first talked to Paul about the play, I felt the part (of Andrew) had a lot to do with what my life was like at that time,” said Caffrey, eating spinach lasagna at Tucci Milan. “The play is about an actor who has done a lot of television and he goes back to
New York to do theater, and he’s very frightened that he’s not going to be able to do it because it takes a different kind of skill. I had just come off the series (`Tour of Duty’) and was moving to New York.

“(Andrew) rents an apartment and is cast as Hamlet in the New York Shakespeare Festival. The apartment that he rents used to belong to John Barrymore, who is generally considered as the greatest Hamlet of all time, and the ghost of Barrymore comes back. And even though they can’t get along, he teaches (Andrew) how to play the role, and the yuks ensue.  It’s very silly and fun.”

The cast for the Chicago production, currently running at the Royal George Theatre, is getting along much more harmoniously than the original Broadway cast did in 1991.  Actor Nicol Williamson (who played Barrymore) drew headlines and blood – literally – when he speared his co-star, whom he couldn’t stand, in the production’s swordplay.

“There is no cast in-fighting in this production,” said Caffrey, who’s in his early  30s. “We have a wonderful choreographer and all the swordplay is faked, which is a good thing since I’m a horrible fencer. I’d never done it before. John Vickery, who’s playing
Barrymore, is classically trained and a wonderful actor, and obviously he’s played Hamlet before. But the great thing is, I’m not supposed to know how to do it, so it’s all part of the training process of how he learns to play the role.”

Born in Cleveland, Caffrey attended high school in five different states and said the longest he ever spent in one place was when his family settled in Chicago.

“I come from an Irish-Catholic family with seven kids, and we moved more times than I can count,” he said. “I lived in Pennsylvania, and then Connecticut, and then Michigan, and so on. The long and short of it is I wound up (in Chicago), and my brother still lives in Oak Park. But I moved from here to New York and then to L.A. And of all the places I’ve lived, this is where I feel I’m from.

“That kind of prepared me for acting. I get a job somewhere and I have to move to where the work is. It’s not a hardship. It just is what I have to do.”

Besides his three seasons on CBS’ “Tour of Duty,” Caffrey starred in the films “Longtime Companion” and “The Babe.”  But soap opera fans still remember him as troublemaker Andrew Cortlandt on “All My Children.”

“My whole perception of soaps changed after doing that one,” he said. “They’re not Chekhov, but they’re wonderful ways to test your skills. The stories move along at the same pace as Congress, so you try to do things to spice up your part.”

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