To act or not to act. The co-star of the Broadway play, "I Hate Hamlet," had no problems answering that question when a fellow thespian smacked him on the rear end with his sword during a stage duel.

Actor Evan Handler, whose stage experience ranges from "Brighton Beach" to "Six Degrees of Separation," did the unheard of - he walked off stage in the middle of the performance Thursday night.Handler quit the Broadway show after co-star Nicol Williamson, playing the ghost of John Barrymore in the comedy at the Walter Kerr Theater, whacked the younger actor on the bottom during a duel scene.

Left alone on stage, Williamson ad-libbed before an audience that included such pros as Gregory Peck and Tony LoBianco, saying "It would appear the player has walked off the stage," before gazing down at the footlights and asking if he should "sing some songs."

The audience, not knowing whether the lines were in the script or not, sat quietly waiting until Williamson told them, "Well, I guess we'll just have to bring the curtain down."

During a longer than usual 20-minute intermission, the cast scrambled back stage to get Handler's understudy, Andrew Mutnick, into a set of tights and the play resumed without incident.

The unrehearsed exit by Handler came after weeks of erratic behavior by Williamson that has disrupted the "I Hate Hamlet" company both on and off stage.

The star has publicly criticized the script of the play, by Paul Rudnick, which is about a sitcom actor, played by Handler, who is visted by Williamson in the role of Barrymore's ghost.

Williamson also has criticized the performances of the other actors and reportedly often left the stage when his character was supposed to be observing the action around him.