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Theater Review

A Whittled-Down, Uneven 'Hamlet'

March 25, 2000|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Royal advisor Polonius may be a "tedious old fool" to the tormented Prince of Denmark, but audiences watching Will & Company's two-hour "Hamlet" will be hard put to agree.

Tom Fitzpatrick is so skillfully natural as the self-important, meddling, foolish schemer that he upstages the rest of the cast; not with tricks, but by giving the audience clarity and meaning in every word and gesture.

None of the other actors, most with extensive stage credits, meet the bar Fitzpatrick raises, though Benito Martinez as a solid-fleshed, testosterone-charged Hamlet--no ethereal poet in black tights here--and others sporadically rise above superficiality in this uneven, whittled-down production.

Enough so that at a recent weekday performance at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, attended by giggly middle-school children and attentive high schoolers, one teenager's post-show assessment was "it's the first time I've understood the story."

On the downside, Newton Kaneshiro's Laertes rattles off dialogue as if being graded on velocity, and Emily Kosloski's delicately pretty Ophelia verges on incomprehensibility with one-note tremulousness. Terry Diab is downright alarming at first, a domineering, sneering Gertrude--Lady Macbeth channeling Mommy Dearest. When Hamlet's company of players perform, Diab adopts a linebacker-warming-the-bench posture, leaning forward, elbows akimbo, holding her crown dangling between her spread knees.

It's hardly credible that this tough-as-nails dame would crumple later under her son's verbal assault (Freudian subtexts are de-emphasized). Yet Diab, proving she's got the chops, pulls it off. She's well-matched by Martinez, who by this time has also regrouped and curtailed his initial bellowing intensity, markedly deepening his effectiveness.

That's fortunate, because this slender version of Shakespeare's four-hour epic of murder, madness, conspiracy and revenge has been crafted to reach young audiences as well as the general public.

*

Adapted and directed by the company's artistic director, Colin Cox, the show's bells and whistles include a recorded overture--portentous drums, bells, oratorio and excerpts of key dialogue--and Eric Allard's special effects--dramatic hissing jets and streams of fog and a holographic ghost voiced by Peter McHugh; prolonged swordplay; and lighting designer Yuki Uehara's complementary darks and brights. These include a crucifix-shaped illumination for some rip-roarin' soul-searching by Steven Matt's Claudius.

Other contributors to the show's serviceable design are sound designer Chris Flores, Pamela Shaw's natural woven-fabric-and-fur costumes, and Anthony Moore and Dea McAllister's angular set.

* "Hamlet," Los Angeles Theatre Center, Tom Bradley Theatre, 514 S. Spring St., April 1, 1 p.m., April 8, 7 p.m. (213) 485-1681. Also April 12, 10:30 a.m.: Madrid Playhouse, 21622 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, (818) 347-9419. April 13-15, 10 a.m.: El Capitan, 6838 Hollywood Blvd., (323) 467-7674. April 15, 7 p.m.: Palmdale Playhouse, 38334 10th St. East, Palmdale, (661) 267-5684. $5-$15. Running time: 2 hours.

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