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THEATER BEAT

'Star Trek's' Beltran Delivers a Solid 'Hamlet'

April 25, 1997|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

The Classical Theater Lab's production of "Hamlet" at Actors' Gang Theater defies augury. Robert Beltran, best known as First Officer Chakotay on "Star Trek: Voyager," plays the title role and also directs. Patrick Stewart aside, one would hardly expect "Star Trek" to prove a hotbed of classically trained actors.

Yet Beltran acquits himself beautifully as both actor and director, rendering a Hamlet as witty as he is tormented, and placing him within the context of a solid, thoughtful production. Don't look here for meretriciously explored, post-Freudian subtexts. Beltran has the great good sense to surround himself with capable performers, trust in the text and let Shakespeare's sweeping tragedy unfold unimpeded by the dog-and-pony revisionism of many recent stagings.

Frank McKown's subtle lighting is crucial to the action. Susan Gratch's set, silver scaffolding against a black background, is utilitarian and undistracting. Although they occasionally call attention to themselves, Lena Kuppens' modern-day costumes are typically understated, and John Kito's splendid sound design subtly enhances the proceedings, as does Jonathan Sacks' original music. Among the seasoned and uniformly well-considered performances, Eva Loseth and John Berczeller, who play Ophelia and Laertes, possess a craft beyond their years.

Although his crowd scenes are sometimes compositionally stiff, Beltran otherwise gives us a clear and straightforward rendition that blows the dust off Shakespeare's classic without damaging its integrity.

* "Hamlet," Actors' Gang Theater, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends May 18. $15. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.

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