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Triumph in all-time tragedy

A special providence attends “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” which opens Shakespeare Orange County’s season at the Festival Amphitheatre in Garden Grove. As the fulcrum of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, Bo Foxworth gives a great performance, both classically poised and wickedly intuitive.

First performed around 1600, the role of Hamlet has been a pinnacle for tragedians since originator Richard Burbage. Foxworth rises to the challenge from his first appearance on the downstage promontory of designer Soo Lee’s set to his poignant final phrases. His house-filling eyes darken as often as lighting designer David C. Palmer’s cues do, and he invests the monologues and Edgar Landa’s fight choreography with rare fervor.

This bravura interpretation, at present rivaled only by David Melville’s audacious Independent Shakespeare take, centers director Thomas F. Bradac’s attractive open-air staging, which pulls its title and contours from the First Folio. The plot’s turns are well articulated, and the omni-period costumes by Rae Robison establish character without excess.

They bedeck an ensemble that ranges from striking to efficient. Michael Nehring is a brilliantly agitated Polonius, and Sean Naughton internalizes Laertes to fascinating effect. Josh Snyder and Alyssa Bradac have fun with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, while Jack Messenger gives the ghost thunderous power. Carl Reggiardo’s velvet-toned Claudius and Evelyn Carol Case’s goblet-wielding Gertrude, though beautifully spoken, are more competent than authoritative.

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Amanda Zarr’s risky Ophelia, Jeremy Schaeg’s atypical Horatio and Craig Brown’s gonzo Gravedigger emblemize the still-gelling modern and antique aspects. Lee’s detailed backdrop of industrial skylines and Gothic arches loses its perspective outdoors. The symbolic use of the wonderful traveling players is underdeveloped, and idioms often collide. Yet the interactions between Foxworth’s compelling prince, his court and the Bard grip us, and recommend this accomplished “Hamlet.”

-- David C. Nichols

“Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” Festival Amphitheatre, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove. 8:15 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends July 22. $29. (714) 590-1575 or www.chapman.edu/shakespeare. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.

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‘Midsummer’ fools and fairies frolic

It’s hard to go completely wrong with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Rife with fairies and fools, this perennial favorite is arguably the most readily accessible of Shakespeare’s plays.

But its permutations of dark and light -- it begins, after all, with a father demanding the death of his daughter for refusing his choice of mate for her -- are difficult to get completely right, too, as director Justin Eick and his cast find in the hit-and-miss staging that launches the Lost Studio’s new “Summer Shakespeare Festival.”

On the downside, wan pageantry and uncertain performances by Lori Bohannon as Hippolyta and Eric Thompson as Theseus bookend the frolic. And Alyson King’s girlish Titania and Justin Scheuer’s bloodless Puck are notably eclipsed by Damian D. Lewis’ smoldering Oberon.

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Still, the rude mechanicals’ buffoonery, nearly always a sure bet, is managed neatly enough, led by Jeremy Guskin’s skillful, Mr. Bean-like turn as Bottom.

And, delivering a belated kick in the show’s Elizabethan puffy pants, Jennifer Hoyt, Patrick Curran, Carrie-Ann Pishnak and Ethan Keogh riotously collide as the bespelled, mismatched lovers in a smack down face-off in the woods.

Eick, perhaps taking on too many roles for his “originalist” production’s good, has recreated Shakespeare’s Blackfriar Theatre as its setting; designed the sound, the dappled lights and the program; and shares credit with Pishnak for the plush period costumes.

-- Lynne Heffley

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“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. Ends July 29. $15. (323) 933-6944. Running time: 2 hours.

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Mane attraction: ‘Barberdashers’

Life experience outstrips youthful zeal in “Barberdashers -- Haircuts and Male Grooming!” at the Stella Adler. Affable work by veteran actors Ted Lange and Art Evans adorns this New York hit about black culture clashes in a Brooklyn barbershop. That makes its indeterminate aspects doubly perplexing.

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Admirably, author-director-actor Bless ji Jaja follows old-school tonsorial experts Dashel (Lange) and Jim (Evans) and streetwise stylist Yabari (Jaja) without resorting to profanity or urban stereotypes, aiming instead for character and message.

Chess-playing proprietor Dashel hectors and mentors Yabari, who wants to bring traditional Barberdashers into the 21st century. Long-married Jim makes anonymous phone calls, utilizing the names of jazz divas, in search of his high school sweetheart. Enter Yvonne (Thyais Walsh), a single mom who has become the object of Dashel and Yabari’s affections while bringing son Ian (Earl Moore) in for his trim. A graver conflict emerges over Yabari’s sideline of selling “relief” to his community.

Ambling about designer Del Toro’s evocative set, “Barberdashers” has authentic insight and many laughs. Dashel and Jim earn guffaws as they waltz to Strauss, and Lange’s trouser-dropping diatribe rocks the house. Moore is one relaxed kid, and Walsh and Jaja land their Act 2 confessionals with a force that inadvertently exposes “Barberdashers’ ” liabilities.

Yvonne’s saga of loss and Yabari’s excoriation of the system seem from another play than that of the romantic rivalry and Jim’s late-life epiphany, and the abrupt final tragedy hardly aligns the elements. At the reviewed performance, struggling for lines and overindulgent business halted forward momentum. Jaja is clearly talented, but the languid pace and tonal blips suggest that he should shed at least one hat.

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-- David C. Nichols

“Barberdashers,” Stella Adler Studio Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., 2nd Floor, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 6. $20. (323) 960-7862 or www.plays411.com/barberdashers. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.


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