Most contemporary stagings of "Hamlet" end with Hamlet's corpse being borne aloft by Fortinbras' soldiers, but not the one being put on by the Los Angeles Repertory Company at Actors Center in Studio City.
There's no one left to carry the body.
Robert Ellenstein's production has only six players. Mainly, the device works. We understand the game from the beginning: no set, no costumes, invisible foils in the duel scene. We will see the play "in the mind's eye, Horatio."
Susan Angelo plays Horatio--and Ophelia. No problem. In fact, it's instructive to see how smoothly Ellenstein's actors can shift from character to character, sometimes at a moment's notice.
When Michael Newell and Patricia Huston sit down to hear the play-within-a-play, they do so as Claudius and Gertrude. Then they rise and bow to their empty chairs . . . and become the Player King and Queen. Not only is this a graceful transition, it strengthens the fatal identity between the two couples.
The only logistical hitch in the proceedings is the non-appearance of Fortinbras. But it's not the first time that "Hamlet" has ended with Horatio doing the eulogy.
Ellenstein's pocket version teaches us something about the play and quite a lot about the way we see theater. It never seems a stunt. But it does seem a bit like a diagram. We see how the play fits together, but we don't enter deeply into the lives of the characters.
Hamlet is played by David Ellenstein, Robert Ellenstein's son. He moves well, looks well and speaks well (as do the whole cast). He's alive and sympathetic. But he doesn't make us feel that Hamlet has been seriously untuned by the events leading up to the play. There's little sense of a young man in crisis, something we do get from Shannon Presby's Laertes.
Hamlet has got to startle us from time to time, or we begin to think we're watching a performance of "Hamlet." That's the general effect here: an intelligent reading of the play by some capable and certainly versatile actors (including Jim Freiburger as Polonius), but not an emotional journey.
\o7 Plays Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Closes Nov. 20. Tickets $9-$12. 11969 Ventura Blvd. (818) 508-3714. \f7