Bard Stiff

As Prospero (the character who is thought to be one of Shakespeare's several self-portraits) Matthew Regan is somewhat muted, an old man who's more tired than angry. Prospero's most famous speeches ("I'll drown my book" and "We are such stuff as dreams are made on") have less effect coming from Regan than does the more human-size scene in which Prospero presents Miranda to Ferdinand. Here he's a protective father whose ambivalence about his daughter's marriage almost upstages his happiness at the match. Michelle Diaz as Miranda, however, makes hardly any impression at all.

Hamlet, under the direction of co-artistic director Angela Thomas, has fewer redeeming qualities. I'm a fan of Angela Thomas, and I cherish the memories of several of her recent performances, particularly her show-stopping turn in Laughing Wild a few seasons back. But I'm not convinced she made many good decisions while directing this production. The blocking -- the design by which actors move across the stage -- seems to be conceived for a much larger space. The result is that it's difficult to focus on much of the action because you can't see everything. For example, Hamlet's reaction as his father's ghost appears can't be seen from more than half the seats in the house.

When the gigantic tableau is visible, much of it is lacking in directorial imagination. Given the creativity that drives Thomas's own acting, I had hopes she would deliver a Hamlet that turned the liabilities of the tiny theater into assets. She could stage the drama in a black space, with no props or costumes, in the manner of Trevor Nunn's famous 1976 studio production of Macbeth. Do away with those awful Druid-tunic-meets-Greek-toga costumes. At the very least, stress some aspect of the story that justifies its resemblance to a creaky high school production. It's bad enough that many of the actors are carried off by their lines and not the other way around.

As the Prince of Denmark, Todd Allen Durkin looks like the portrait of Hamlet on the cover of the Folger library paperback edition of the play; an elegant youth in a lace shirt holds a dagger, very much the traditional image that we carry of the character. Unfortunately Durkin's performance, albeit polished, doesn't get far from the conventional notion of Hamlet as a moody aesthete rather than a living, breathing guy whose problems we can understand. While Durkin has his moments -- some of them thrilling, even -- he's not consistently compelling, and I often had the sense I was watching someone still learning the role. What's needed is someone we can't take our eyes off.

Fifth Annual Shakespeare Festival: The Tempest and Hamlet (in repertory). Through September 20. Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Paul and Angela Thomas. Starring Patrick Armshaw, France Luce-Benson, Andre Todd Bruni, Michelle Diaz, Todd Allen Durkin, Mike Maria, Seth Platt, and Matthew Regan. Florida Playwrights' Theatre, 1936 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood; 954-925-8123.

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