KPBS AIRDATE: August 18, 2006
Summer is an especially good time to take the kids to the theater. They can relish staying out late, sitting under the stars, and if perchance, sleep begins to overtake them, they’re already wrapped in a blanket. But two current shows should enthrall them: a beloved musical, “The Wizard of Oz,” and one of the world’s greatest ghost stories that spark revenge, “Hamlet.”
This is the fifth year of New Village Arts’ free Shakespeare in the Park, where the spacious grounds of La Costa Canyon High School allow the actors and the audience to spread out. Hamlet, in fact, makes a dramatic entrance on a motor-scooter, with the pretty, waif-like Ophelia hanging on behind him. Under the direction of Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, this is Hamlet lite, a shortened, pared-down version that focuses on the surface plot and doesn’t delve too deeply into temperament or motivation. The secondary characters are just that. This production is all about Hamlet, who’s vigorously inhabited by Francis Gercke, co-founder of New Village Arts. His wife, Kristianne Kurner, plays Hamlet’s buddy, the noble Horatio, but not much is made of that gender-bent relationship. It’s Hamlet we come to care about, even though this one is less a brooder than a ruminator, and a tad antic even before he puts his “antic disposition on.” He’s definitely a young, modern Hamlet, the craftily intelligent student home from University to attend his father’s funeral, followed closely by his mother’s marriage to his uncle. The body pileup at the end doesn’t feel quite tragic enough. But the story is easy to follow and “Hamlet” neophytes will get a good deal out of it, including of course, some incredible language, well articulated.
As for the ”Wizard,” well, let’s just say this isn’t the movie. Since Starlight borrowed the sets and costumes from the revival at Madison Square Garden, I expected the look of the production to be eye-popping and mind-boggling. Alas, the scenery is underwhelming, but the costumes are quite colorful and imaginative. And they look great on the huge cast, which seems to range from preschool Munchkins to grayhairs. Young college freshman Lindsey Grubbs makes a vocally strong Dorothy, but she doesn’t bring any new insight or energy to the role. Her Yellow Brick buddies are engaging, with Justin Robertson, recently so delightful as Horton the Elephant in Moonlight’s “Seussical,” particularly funny and endearing as the Cowardly Lion. That’s the only place where some liberty and creativity are exhibited. Otherwise, it’s a pretty straightforward, fairly uninspired production, a little long but well sung and well played by a robust orchestra.
Adult gripes notwithstanding, at both shows, the young people were spellbound, and that’s what’s important; they’re the theatergoing audience of tomorrow.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.