Andrew Rally, the up-and-coming young star of a recently canceled television series, has just arrived with real estate agent Felicia Dantine at what is to be his new apartment in New York City. Rally, a native of Los Angeles, is more than a little put off by the Gothic trappings of the old brownstone. The fact that the apartment once belonged to the legendary actor, John Barrymore, does little to dissipate Rally’s reservations. He is doubly disturbed, as he is soon to perform the difficult part of Hamlet, the role made famous by Barrymore—and he is to do it onstage, away from the glitter of Hollywood.
Rally and Dantine are soon joined by Rally’s agent, Lillian Troy, and his girlfriend, Deirdre McDavey. Troy, many years ago, had a brief fling with Barrymore in this very apartment. Excited, Dantine claims she is able to communicate with departed spirits and suggests they summon Barrymore to verify Lillian’s claim. Encouraged by Deirdre, Dantine begins the séance.
Andrew is told to think of a question to ask Barrymore—perhaps some advice on playing the role of Hamlet. When Andrew shouts out, “I hate Hamlet!” the curtains blow, and lightning illuminates the room, briefly casting the shadow of the striking profile of a man upon the wall. Andrew alone sees the shadow.
After the séance, Andrew and Deirdre are alone in the old apartment. Their conversation turns, as it often does, to Deirdre’s unwillingness to have sex prior to marriage, much to Andrew’s disappointment. When Deirdre retires for the evening to the upstairs bedroom, Barrymore, resplendent in full Hamlet costume, appears to the stunned Andrew. Barrymore explains that he makes himself seen to every young actor who is facing the daunting role of Hamlet and is in desperate need of help. The remainder of Act One is taken up with Barrymore’s brash coaching of Andrew—both in acting, and in the ways of love, culminating with a mock, but swashbuckling, sword fight in the apartment.
By Act Two Andrew is deeply into the role of Hamlet, dressing the part and brooding darkly in the apartment which is now decorated like a medieval castle. He still has misgivings but receives a final encouraging speech from Barrymore on the opening night of the production.
Sadly, all does not go well. Andrew’s performance is, at best, weak. Furthering Andrew’s angst is the discovery that Deirdre has been seduced in the night by Barrymore. Deirdre agrees that Andrew’s performance was awful, but, because he did not give up, in her eyes he has become the bravest and most noble man she has ever met—which is what she has been seeking.
In the end, Andrew declines a new television offer and opts to pursue a life on the stage. Barrymore tells him, “There it is! The glory of Shakespeare. Hamlet has changed you. Altered your course.”
After teaching Andrew one last lesson—how to bow properly—Barrymore leaves. Andrew bows dramatically to the audience, and the curtain falls.