The actor is returning to his theater roots after 10 years
By Samantha Bambino
It’s been 10 years since Newtown resident Steve Sanpietro stepped foot on a theater stage. Though the Long Island, New York native held fast to the spotlight, earning roles in television shows such as House of Cards, The Blacklist and, most recently, Manifest, acting in front of a camera crew proved to be a stark contrast to the vulnerability of performing live in front of hundreds.
But from Nov. 9 through Dec. 1, Sanpietro is returning to his stage roots as writer/producer/director Gary Peter Lefkowitz in Bucks County Playhouse’s production of the Broadway comedy, I Hate Hamlet.
The show, created by Paul Rudnick, follows Andrew Rally, the hot star of a recently canceled TV series, who arrives in New York to play Hamlet in Central Park. Andrew settles into the fabulous Gothic Greenwich Village apartment once owned by John Barrymore (played by Tony nominee Tom Hewitt of The Rocky Horror Show), and while Andy loves the city, theater and stardom, he hates Hamlet. He’s ready to flee to Los Angeles when the ghost of John Barrymore unexpectedly appears to take his would-be successor under his wing, tutoring him in Shakespearean acting, life and love.
While Sanpietro admits his role of Gary is relatively small in the grand scheme of the show, he said it’s the perfect opportunity after his hiatus.
“It’s going to be a great way for me to get back into the stage. I haven’t been on stage in 10 years, and that was after a decade of doing nothing but theater. I’m super enthused about it,” he said. “He’s a guy who loves the deal. He’s very self-obsessed but he’s not a jerk. I think he genuinely cares about Andrew Rally. He’s a very L.A. character but he’s fun. He’s really, really fun.”
When Sanpietro first read the play I Hate Hamlet years ago, he connected to the character of Andy — a young network TV star. Now, as a proud husband and father of two boys, Gary is more his speed.
“I have aged into this part,” he said, adding that in another 15 years, he’ll probably be ready for the role of Barrymore.
For Sanpietro, whose past theater work includes the Off-Broadway production of Aunt Chooch’s Birthday Party and the national Broadway tour of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, it’s a thrill to make his debut at Bucks County Playhouse, a place he has held in high regard for some time — even before his wife Teresa became general manager three years ago.
“They have rehabilitated their image quite a bit,” he said, praising BCP for emerging from bankruptcy and earning a good reputation again among actors.
As rehearsals for I Hate Hamlet kicked off in New York toward the end of October, Sanpietro had to pinch himself in order to not get starstruck. During table reads, he found himself sitting beside legends like Tony Award-winner Elizabeth Ashley, who is returning to the Playhouse 55 years after co-starring opposite Robert Redford in the pre-Broadway production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park.
“She’s a wonder,” Sanpietro said. “I thoroughly enjoy talking to older actors like that because I feel like I’m doing a podcast when I’m talking to them. I just want to pick their brains and listen to the stories. It’s amazing the lives that these people have led.”
In addition to having the honor of working under director Marc Bruni, whose work includes Roman Holiday and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Sanpietro was able to meet writer Rudnick, who provided a firsthand account of the shocking incident that surrounds I Hate Hamlet to this day. During the original production in the early ’90s, Evan Handler, who portrayed Andy, was struck with a sword when Nicol Williamson, who played the ghost of Barrymore, went off choreography during a dueling scene. Handler angrily walked off stage and gave his resignation.
Today, Sanpietro said I Hate Hamlet is supposedly “haunted” by Barrymore, but its monologues have also become canon for performers during acting classes. According to Sanpietro, not only is the content beloved by actors, it’s accessible for all.
“Actors will see it and crack up at a lot of it. But then my mom will see it, she’s decidedly not an actor, and she will crack up as well. The humor is there and it’s not too inside baseball,” he said.
In Sanpietro’s opinion, I Hate Hamlet is also noncontroversial.
“This is a great show for the Playhouse because it’s relatively benign in the current climate that we are in. I think this is just a nice night out at the theater,” he said. “It’s not going to insult anybody. I think its purpose is to entertain. I think it takes a really great look at Shakespeare and his accessibility to people.”
As Sanpietro wraps up rehearsals and prepares to take the stage for the first time in a decade, a single question remains — will he return for good to his first love of theater? Though the future is fuzzy at this point, one thing is certain.
“I’m sure I’m going to completely love it because I love being on stage and I love doing theater. I love being in front of people and I love working with actors in that real moment,” he said. “Getting to sink your teeth into something, it’s the juice. It’s so good. For right now, I’m just ecstatic.” ••
If you go…
I Hate Hamlet will play the following schedule: Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesdays at 2 p.m.; Thursdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. There are no performances on Thanksgiving Day. Additional performances are added Wednesday, Nov. 21 and 28 at 7:30 p.m.; and Friday, Nov. 23, at 2 p.m. The opening night performance is Saturday, Nov. 10, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $45. Special discounts are available for groups of 10 or more. For full details, visit BucksCountyPlayhouse.org, call 215–862–2121 or visit the box office at 70 S. Main St., New Hope.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org