FIRST REVIEW IS IN : THUMBS UP

Posted: June 14, 2011 in FIRST PRODUCTION, REVIEWS

Two on the Aisle  (Ventura Breeze June 15th – www.venturabreeze.com)

Backstage with Hamlet at Santa Paula

by Jim Spencer & Shirley Lorraine

The world premiere of “Directing Hamlet,” by award-winning Ventura County playwright Michael Perlmutter, opened last weekend as one of Santa Paula Theater Center’s intimate Backstage Productions.

The script lets the audience discover the circles within circles in the tenuous relationship between a newly cast young actor and a seasoned director while rehearsing for aproduction of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

It is also a play written by an actor/director for actors and directors. Anyone who has been on stage will see patches of familiarity in the director’s obsession with clarity, and the actor’s confusion in his attempts to please the director. For those who have not been “on the boards,” the tight dialogue and characterizations open windows into the hard work that goes into creating what an audience ultimately sees.

Joe Boles (the director) and Curtis Cline (Brian, the actor) are clearly up to their twofold task. Not only do they tackle the spot-on frustration of interpretive clashes in the modern day rehearsal setting, they are also up to the challenge of presenting Shakespeare. A heady combination they both handle extremely well.

The multi-layered script is well written, containing thoughtful insights among a web of intriguing interactions between the characters, all punctuated in just the right places with lines that elicit laughs to break the moments of tension.

The show is also directed by playwright Perlmutter. It turns out his directorial skills rival his talent as a playwright, which is not often the case. But in this production it allows Perlmutter to effectively give full effect to his vision as a playwright by helping his cast extract all the intended nuances of his demanding script.

As a world-premiere production, “Directing Hamlet” is a work in progress. In our opinion, the ending is one area where additional polishing may ultimately take place. The piece has two story lines. As a theatrical experience the first is 95% finished by the final blackout. The second story line, although touching, appears late in the play, is not fully developed, winds up quickly, and so is not fully satisfying. Nonetheless, the play, especially with these actors and director, is excellent.

The comfortable nature of the Backstage Production venue heightens the show’s impact. What’s a Backstage Production? Well, in addition to its regular season of Main Stage plays, the Santa Paula Theatre Center also produces new, small cast and experimental works to give authors, actors and audiences opportunities to stretch and grow. As some extra space is available (since the building was not originally designed as a theater), these shows are presented in an area that is literally part of the backstage of the main stage. Hence, the name – Backstage Productions.

“Directing Hamlet” continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. (except Saturday, June 18 when there will be a concert on the main stage) and Sundays at 4 p.m. Tickets are $15. Contact the theater at 805-525-4645 or ww.santapaulatheatercenter.org. The theater is located at 125 So. Seventh Street, Santa Paula.

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