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A Touch of the Familiar

Chili Queen is warmly recognizable; Hamlet, unfortunately, is too

Opening on an all-purpose palace set, the production glides along fairly well. For the most part, the sensibility is a traditional one. And to that end, Daria Dunn is a convincing Hamlet, though her interpretation is often limited to a righteous, angry tone and lacks the nuances of Hamlet's mental state. Dunn's restlessness, however, her pacing and her taut awareness fit the part nicely. With the disastrous exception of some comic moments -- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the gravedigger's scene -- the production features some fine acting. Rebecca Tindel's Horatio is a masterfully understated performance. Focusing on her character's role as Hamlet's only confidant, Tindel often serves as the production's anchor, a beacon of honesty in a show that often loses its course.

For any Shakespeare play, the actors need to be prepared to tackle the long speeches, a matter that was apparently neglected here. The constant breathiness of the actors' lines suggests not only inadequate preparation, but sloppy craft. And there are wrong-headed character interpretations, too, such as a Claudius who wiggles her eyebrows like a silent movie villain, an Ophelia who shrieks her way through madness and a castle guard who never speaks above a mock horror whisper.

The central problem in Johnson's production, though, is that she doesn't follow through on her main conceit, that of a feminine reading of the play. Instead, what Main Street has come up with is a production of Hamlet that feels pasted together -- lacking either the power of a period production, or the political relevance of a contemporary one.

Chili Queen plays through June 1 at Stages, 3201 Allen Parkway, 527-8243; Hamlet plays through May 18 at Main Street Theater, 4617 Montrose, 524-6706.

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