Flights of Fancy

Play evokes aura of Lindy's flight; other playbills feature funny gays and surly Danes

I keep referring to The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told as a comedy, and of course it is. But Rudnick is more than a self-proclaimed laugh whore. Cushioned among all these wicked laugh lines is a tender, loving message -- as when, in the Garden of Eden, Adam avers, "If we're going to create the world, we have to respect our differences." Sad to say, I'm not sure this accomplished production will persuade the gay-bashers to reach for heightened compassion. They'd have to see it first. As Hamlet would say, "That's the rub."


What is the one essential attribute that any Shakespeare production needs must possess if it is to engage an audience? Clarity. A director can layer on anything he likes -- shift the time period or cast females in male roles -- but if the text is not clear, all those so-called improvements are for naught. On this score, the current Hamlet, which concludes the 2002 St. Louis Shakespeare season, is on solid ground.

Jeremy Sher and Michael Jokerst in The Most 
Fabulous Story Ever Told
Jeremy Sher and Michael Jokerst in The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told

Details

Captain Lindbergh’s Ocean Flight-Performed by the Metro Theater Company through December 1 at the Missouri History Museum, Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue. Call 314-997-6777.

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told-By Paul Rudnick. Performed by the Hothouse Theatre Company through December 8 at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1529 Washington Avenue. Call 314-534-1111.

Hamlet-By William Shakespeare. Performed by St. Louis Shakespeare through December 1 at the Grandel Theater, 3610 Grandel Square. Call 314-534-1111.

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This Hamlet is populated with straightforward, accessible performances. Christopher Hickey (who is emerging as one of the area's most reliable actors) is a properly restrained Horatio, Matt Kahler delivers a sympathetic Laertes and (as he did earlier this season in The Taming of the Shrew) Robert A. Mitchell emanates an understated authority, this time as the villainous King Claudius.

Best of all is Sara Renschen as the doomed Ophelia. Last year, in the title role of Christopher Durang's farce Betty's Summer Vacation, Renschen played a character who was required to project sanity in an insane world. Here she must succumb to insanity in a cruelly sane world. Once again she rises to the occasion. Although Ophelia's "mad" scenes often slow Hamlet to a maddening crawl, Renschen's reveals an intriguing method to her madness. Her calibrated descent is among the evening's highlights.

Alas, the problem here is with Hamlet himself. I say this cautiously, because no one who is not an actor should underestimate the herculean challenge of attempting Hamlet. It is the role of roles. Because the character is so ill-defined on the page and the performance options are so innumerable, Hamlet of necessity must become the Dane the actor chooses to make him. But in this production, one senses that Bryan Keith has yet to make any choices at all. He's a well-intentioned actor who knows his lines. But, although he goes through the motions, he's not yet capable of stroking our emotions. You might think, now that the production has opened, Keith's work is behind him. In fact, it is just beginning.

But, of course, it's impossible to see Hamlet and not have a rewarding time: Here an unexpectedly moving Ophelia, there a deftly executed fencing scene -- and always the joy of hearing anew resonant lines that we know like old friends. But during the three-hour play, I kept returning to the wistful thought that in this same 180 minutes I could have sat through Captain Lindbergh's Ocean Flight four times.

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