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Bremerton Community Theatre ‘Hates Hamlet’

Sword fights, survival and “Sex and the City.”

What do these three items have in common? The Oct. 6 performance of “I Hate Hamlet” at the Bremerton Community Theatre.

The play has a sword fight which figured prominently in the life of Evan Handler, a leukemia survivor who starred in the show on Broadway, and who later went on to make it big in television and movies, most notably in “Sex and the City,” playing the role of Harry Goldenblatt, Charlotte’s husband. Handler is filming “Californication” with David Duchovny for Showtime, and will soon head off to New York to reprise his “Sex and the City” role for the upcoming movie.

The Oct. 6 performance of “I Hate Hamlet” is a fund-raiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Handler was in his early 20s, and the understudy for the lead in Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues” on Broadway when he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He had been scheduled to go on stage, and he went to the doctor to get a fix for his flu-like symptoms and sore throat. Some blood work was run and he went straight into treatment.

“I didn’t ask for any prognosis and none was given,” Handler said in a telephone interview from his Los Angeles home, “but I was asked to sign informed consent forms, so it was understood it was a grave situation. The expectation was that people didn’t go into remission.”

Traditional chemotherapy eventually did grant him a remission, and he made his way back into the big time in another Simon comedy, “Broadway Bound,” when he relapsed.

“It made me wonder whether or not Neil Simon plays were carcinogenic,” Handler said. “It had been a huge triumph for me to be back on Broadway.”

This time, Handler was able to defy the odds even more dramatically, achieving a cure through an autologous bone marrow transplant. In the procedure, Handler’s own bone marrow was harvested and treated while the rest of his body was blasted by radiation. The cleaned bone marrow was then put back into his body.

Then came “I Hate Hamlet.”

Handler passed on the lead in another show, and ignored some warning signs to take the role of Andrew Rally in the first place.

“It was a play they were having trouble casting,” Handler recalled, “and that should always be a concern. But for me, it was very much a coup, to be playing the lead in a romantic comedy.”

Handler had the opportunity to play the lead in an off-Broadway production of “Substance of Fire,” which subsequently starred Ron Rifkin and (ironically) Sarah Jessica Parker. “I turned down a more artistic endeavor for a more commercial one,” Handler said. “I was so hungry for the platform for myself.”

The show brought him notoriety, but not the kind anyone would want.

Nicol Williamson, notoriously difficult to get along with, played the ghost of John Barrymore, and he and Handler didn’t hit it off. Williamson did, however, hit Handler very hard on the rear with his sword while on-stage. “He didn’t draw blood,” Handler said, “but he did raise a pretty good welt.” Handler promptly walked off stage and never returned.

“It was the least premeditated act of my life,” Handler said. “But it was either that or allow myself to be assaulted with a 3-foot-long piece of steel, or go back and start a fight in front of 500 people. My father taught me never to fight with someone who doesn’t care what happens.”

Asked if the rumors that Williamson was drunk at the time, Handler said, “You know, legally, you can’t say someone was drunk without blood tests and such. You can only say things like, ‘His breath smelled of alcohol and he appeared unsteady on his feet. Well, Nicol’s breath smelled of alcohol and he was unsteady on his feet a lot.”

Handler’s career wasn’t hurt by the incident, in fact he’s been extremely busy. “Sex and the City” has been his most popular show, where he played the divorce attorney turned husband of Charlotte, played by Kristin Davis.

Personally, Handler was married three years ago to Italian medical researcher Elisa Atti, and the couple had their first child, a daughter, Sofia, in January.

I Hate Hamlet

Saturday, Oct. 6

Bremerton Community Theatre

599 Lebo Blvd.

Bremerton

Tickets: $18

Available only at jlmange@juno.com

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