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The prince remains a king of the theater
Through March 13 at
Orlando Shakespeare Theater
812 E. Rollins St.

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is arguably the most widely known work of Western literature (next to the Bible) and the best-known play in history. What’s the point of summarizing a story that almost everyone alive has already seen, if not onstage then onscreen (starring Oliver, Gibson or Simba)?

If you’re in the dark about Hamlet, allow me to recommend Slings and Arrows, the brilliant Canadian television comedy that’s set backstage at the barely fictional New Burbage Theatre Festival. The first-season DVD features all the archetypes familiar to anyone who has been knee-deep in nonprofit theater – arrogant actors, exploited ingénues, boneheaded board members and a clinically insane artistic director – as they stumble through a production of Hamlet. After watching, you’ll have a much better appreciation for Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s version of the tragedy.

With an aesthetic updated to the late 19th century, cinematically seamless scene transitions and excellent articulation all around, OST’s production should appeal even to those who aren’t normally Bard buffs. From the opening scene, in which the king’s ghost levitates out of the floor in a sea of fog, to the final fencing duel, director Richard Width has crafted a supremely theatrical show stocked with energy and accessibility, which is appropriate for a play about the transformative power of play-acting. He’s found humor in places both expected (Michael Gill’s Guildenstern and Regan McLellan’s Rosencrantz) and unexpected (Steve Hendrickson’s Polonius, not a trivial fool but wittily self-aware).

And while the expert pacing makes it feel less than its three hours, Width has edited surgically, sparing often-axed lines from the Player King and “Gravedigger 1” (the wonderful Johnny Lee Davenport).

Of course, the play rests on the treacherous trio at its center. Eric Zivot plays Claudius as a polished politician, his smoothed-back hair hiding the banality of evil. The ever-excellent Anne Hering is given some interesting extra-textual blocking moments to motivate her enigmatic Gertrude.

As the titular prince, New York actor Avery Clark emphasizes his antic disposition. No emo moper, this “man of action” Hamlet would be Baker Acted today. Clark tosses books, leaps off benches and soliloquizes while swinging from the balcony rail. It could all be considered “over the top,” but can’t be called boring. OST’s production isn’t the brainiest or most affecting Hamlet I’ve ever seen, but it is among the most entertaining.

Seth Kubersky

Witty talk, heavy thoughts
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Through Feb. 28 at Mad Cow Theatre
105 S. Magnolia Ave.

Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a theatrical work of genius based wholly upon another masterpiece of the stage, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. (See the previous review of Orlando Shakes’ current production of Hamlet.) What the 1968 Tony award-winner so brilliantly attempted, and so effectively achieved, was to take the most famous play in the English language and turn it precisely on its head – downgrading the work’s major characters into walk-ons and cameos while promoting two of its lesser personages into the bright but bewildering spotlight.  

Once these ground rules were established, Stoppard, one of the most thoughtful and creative playwrights of our time, utilized his clever ploy to ruminate upon some of literature’s most elemental themes: life and death, time and eternity, reality versus imagination and, because Stoppard is a consummate man of the theater, the art and artifice of dramatic performance. 

In both plays, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Hamlet’s former schoolmates who have been summoned to Denmark by King Claudius to “glean what afflicts” the brooding prince. Uncomprehendingly cast into this confusing and otherworldly drama, Stoppard’s two cohorts begin pinballing off the walls of their empty and uncomfortable offstage limbo, trying vainly to make some existential sense of the bleak and challenging universe they now inhabit.  

There they meet the Player, another of the Bard’s most insignificant personae. He further depresses the dazed duo by reminding them they are also characters in a play whose events are out of their control and whose outcome has already been predetermined by the laws of art, “the bad end unhappily, the
good unluckily!” 

In Mad Cow Theatre’s current production, director Alan Bruun and his terrific cast have successfully mined the depths of Stoppard’s compelling intellectual conundrums, his magnificent wordplay and his affecting characterizations, while maintaining every rich layer of the play’s sly wit and dark comedy.  

With his rapid-fire delivery and his dry, contemptuous intelligence, Timothy Williams turns in a tour-de-force portrayal of Guildenstern. Equally perfect is Michael Marinaccio as Rosencrantz – his joyous bursts of boyish enthusiasm, when they do manage to break through his hangdog melancholy, help leaven the play’s heavy and omnipresent foreboding. Christian Kelty’s Player is a rich amalgam of world-weary experience, perverse sentiment and razor-sharp cleverness.

Together, the three newly elevated principals thwack around Stoppard’s verbal ping-pong balls with exquisite finesse and superb timing, all the while playing out their inevitable and ignominious fates. 

Al Krulick

Out of his mind Cosmology by Rafael Santiago
Through March 6 at Bold Hype
1844 E. Winter Park Road

New Yorker Rafael Santiago’s second solo exhibition at Bold Hype extends his exquisite portraits of pop-culture figures and adds in new mythological figures vaguely familiar yet utterly alien. The images hover over the epic face of a shaman, the spirit-figure lurking in all societies at all times, watching over Santiago’s other characters as well as the viewer. The shaman’s gentle yet powerful presence in the gallery is calming and alarming at the same time, imbuing the space with the presence of an ancient and mystical being. 

Drawing with an 01 Micron pen (width .25 mm) on thirsty paper is kind of like mowing the lawn with fingernail clippers; it’s a rigorous, ritualistic process, not without tedium and frustration. In Santiago’s patient hands, hairline threads of color bring amazing depth and richness to the portraits, and also seem to be a release for him. “Relatively Thinking” is an interpretation of the famous 1951 photo of Einstein sticking out his tongue; in Santiago’s hands, the genius has a tab of blotter acid on his tongue and a hand-rolled cigarette floating below. The sensitivity of line, the blending of bright tropical colors and the mastery of portraiture give Santiago’s work vibrancy, and figures like JFK and Carl Sagan populate the gallery, floating within vivid nebulae and smoke.

Santiago’s smaller drawings are disarming little dreams: toy rayguns, bunnies named Buck and eyeballs floating in the sea. Many are unfinished or are studies, such as “It’s All in My Head,” an especially goofy little palimpsest of sketchy cartoon characters layered in a stream of consciousness. Throughout them all, ubiquitous drug-culture references emphasize the combination of detached euphoria and absurdity; “The Stand Up,” with an Afrodeity figure aiming a toy gun at a laughing rabbit, surrounded by gorgeous cosmic dyes, is emblematic of a lost memory from a long and very weird trip. 

Cosmology, the title, refers to the world inside Santiago’s head featuring the characters of Afrodeity and Buck, as well as pop-culture stars, a young boy and other repeated figures. Over all of them the timeless Shaman king reigns, comforting yet chilling, holding viewers’ eyes. The exhibition’s blend of absurd and sublime leaves one floating between the human and spirit world, the fine-lined faces reverberating in the mind as ethereally as dreams do.

Richard Reep

Reality TV takes aim at the man
Undercover Boss
10 p.m. Sunday

After the Super Bowl on Sunday, keep the TV on to watch Undercover Boss, the new unscripted series that puts corporate bigwigs to work in the trenches of their own companies. (The show moves to 9 p.m. Sunday after this premiere.) Yes, the commercials make it look cheesy, contrived and manipulative. And it is all of those things. But there’s also something cathartic about watching a boss get a firsthand look at what his cutbacks and “efficiencies” have wrought and hearing him admit his mistakes.

In the debut episode, the boss is Larry O’Donnell, president and chief operating officer of Waste Management, which calls itself the leading provider of comprehensive waste and environmental services in North America. Over the course of 42 minutes (an hour in TV time), Larry becomes “Randy” and gets dirty: picking up trash, cleaning out portable toilets and separating recyclables from garage. It’s disgusting work, and O’Donnell’s job performance is mostly terrible. But the people who work for him are unfailingly nice, polite and dedicated. They’re doing the best they can for a company that dumps more and more work on them while showing precious little humanity,

We see one worker rushing to punch her time card after lunch because for every minute she’s late, she’s docked two minutes of pay. We see another who’s doing not only her job but also those of two others because the company let those positions go dark. When the employee working three jobs invites Randy home, the COO is surprised to find out that she’s having serious financial troubles.

O’Donnell seems like a nice enough guy, but it’s clear he doesn’t know a damn thing about how difficult Waste Management’s leadership has made things for its hourly employees. You mean one person can’t do the work of three? You mean we dock people if they take an extra minute for lunch? You mean I have employees who are having a tough time making ends meet? O’Donnell embodies much of what’s wrong with American corporations today and how books are balanced on the backs of workers.

When O’Donnell finally comes clean and tells the employees who he really is (hard as it is to believe, they did not recognize him), the crew seems happy that he made the effort to find out what they do. And then he attempts to rectify the problems his policies have caused, which creates some genuinely emotional moments. But mostly, you feel contempt.

Marc D. Allan
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