Playing Barrymore: An Interview with Ruff Yeager

Ruff Yeager as the Ghost of John Barrymore

Ruff Yeager as the Ghost of John Barrymore

If you ask Ruff Yeager how he manages to portray the larger-than-life Ghost of John Barrymore in Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s current show, “I Hate Hamlet,” without getting distracted by the audience who practically sits onstage, he will tell you that he has a very simple strategy.

“I picture them as ghosts,” says Ruff.

With the inauguration of Intrepid’s new black box space, this summer’s offerings are being produced in an intimate theatre-in-the-round setting, which gives audiences the chance to be up close and personal with the action.

“We can see people in the audience,” says Ruff. “If I really look, I can see their faces.”

In an effort to incorporate this intimacy into the imagined world of the play, Ruff has figured out a way to makes sense of their presence. Because they are sitting on old-fashioned chairs and couches, a beautiful detail that expands the world of John Barrymore’s apartment further into the theater, it is not difficult.

Barrymore 6“I see the audience as all of these other ghosts in our house,” he says, and then adds in true Barrymore form, “I see them as benevolent ghosts who want me to do well.”

Leave it to the character of John Barrymore to crave applause from the afterlife. But that’s exactly what he does in “I Hate Hamlet” – and Ruff’s portrayal of the grandiose Barrymore has audiences and critics raving. It’s not every day an actor’s performance review includes words like “mercurial,” “ebullient” and “charismatic.” But Ruff wouldn’t know, of course, because he doesn’t read them. All he knows is how much fun he’s having.

“I love playing the Ghost of John Barrymore,” he says without hesitation. “Playing a character of this scope and magnitude of spirit…it’s just really joyful.”

Ruff Yeager as John Barrymore and Francis Gercke as Andrew Rally

Ruff Yeager and Francis Gercke as Andrew Rally

That joy is evident during the performances, as Ruff pounces from chaise lounge to mantelpiece to potted plant, pulling out rapiers and bottles of wine as he sees fit. One can’t help but be caught up in his lust for life, even considering his ghostly circumstances.

Even though Ruff had done quite a bit of research coming into rehearsals on this uproarious personality, there was still a lot of discussion with director Christopher Williams about bringing the Ghost of Barrymore to life – and specifically, how big is too big when it comes to this character’s personality. Surprisingly, the new theater space played a large part in that characterization.

Barrymore!“We did a lot of work on volume and articulation,” explains Ruff. “With that, comes larger physicalization, because it takes a lot of energy. In the end, I have to trust Christopher and that what I am directed to do is going to work.”

Mercurial…ebullient…charismatic…that it “works” might be an understatement.

“I Hate Hamlet” must close July 19 and Ruff is already anticipating the loss.

“I’m going to be very sad when this is going to be over because it’s been so much fun,” he admits. “But I’m looking forward to the last two weeks as a real celebration of this character and this play.” – TT

I Hate Hamlet runs through July 19, Thursday 8:00pm / Friday 8pm / Saturday 4pm & 8pm / Sunday 2pm. Purchase tickets here

Photo credits: DAREN SCOTT

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