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STAGE REVIEW : FROM ‘SANTA BARBARA’ TO ‘HAMLET’

Times Theater Critic

A group of actors who make their money on the soaps--"Santa Barbara,” in particular--are doing “Hamlet” for love at the Shakespeare Society of America. The results are entirely respectable, if a little colorless.

Lane Davies is Hamlet. He opens with the ‘To be or not to be” soliloquy, as if to get that out of the way immediately. This is the production’s major innovation. For the rest, Davies gives us a gracious prince who never seems terribly distressed by the pressure upon him to take action, even when crying at the top of his well-tuned voice about how all occasions do inform against him.

The intent may be to show Hamlet as a depressive, but the effect is one of composure--a state that Hamlet should arrive at but not start from, or there’s no sense of growth. This is an accomplished and thoughtful performance, but the scrape of raw emotion isn’t felt.

This Hamlet’s only tie is to his mother, whom Louise Sorel makes a glassy, glamorous figure with long brown tresses and a drinking problem. She is a far more vivid personage than Michael Santiago’s amiable Claudius, who seems merely along for the ride. Perhaps that was the idea--to suggest that Gertrude seduced her brother-in-law into killing the king and is now paying the price for it. But that turns the play into “Macbeth.”

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It is “Hamlet,” and for the most part the Shakespeare Society audience gets an accurate reading of it. The graveyard scene (Steve Stuart as the gravedigger) once again seems an astonishingly risky piece of writing--jokes at this hour in a tragedy?--and the final duel (choreographed by Gregory Michaels) is managed with real dispatch.

The background cast tends to be a little drab (Louise Robbins plays Ophelia, J. D. Hall is Horatio, Oren Curtis is Polonius and John Allen Nelson is Laertes), but the characters dwell in the same milieu, and this hasn’t always been the case at the Shakespeare Society. Casandra Carpentar’s costumes are also a cut above the average here. David Ralphe was the director.

PS: A home viewer of “Santa Barbara” reports that there was a passing reference in Monday’s episode to clowns who want to play “Hamlet.” A sheer coincidence, let’s hope. Actors who spend their off-hours doing Shakespeare, rather than counting their residuals, deserve respect, not put-downs.

‘HAMLET’

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Shakespeare’s tragedy, at the Shakespeare Society of America’s Globe Playhouse. Director David Ralphe. Executive producers R. Thad Taylor, Jay Uhley. Producer Mary Reale. Assistant director Lindsay V. Jones. Associate producer Judy Levitt. Costume design Casandra Carpentar. Original music Dominick Messinger. Fight choreographer Gregory Michaels. Set Walter Plinge. Stage manager Sam de Francisco. Wardrobe and prop mistress Mary Munsie. With Lane Davies, Michael Santiago, Louise Sorel, Oren Curtis, John Allen Nelson, Louise Robbins, J. D. Hall, Jonathan Roberts, Carl Moebus, Steve Munsie, Joseph Reale, Richard Livinston, Richard Fullerton, Steve Stuart, Sam de Francisco, Richard Tyson, David Fritz, Michael Ross-Oddo, Ashok Ramji, Dilip Ramji, Ashwin Ramji, Carol Ashley, Michele King. Plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays; closes April 26. Tickets $12.50. 1107 N. Kings Road, (213) 654-5623.


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