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LA Theater Review

Hamletmachine

Take equal parts Beckett and Brecht, toss them in a blender with generous helpings of avant-garde spirit, and you have the works of Heiner M端ller. From the late 1970s, this deconstruction of what is arguably the greatest play in the English language is so radical as to bear only a passing resemblance to Shakespeare. Those familiar with Hamlet will find little theatrically on which to hang their hat; those unfamiliar with it will likely be totally at sea. This drama offers no plot to speak of, just two loosely drawn main "characters," doses of Marxist philosophy, and bold yet often wayward attempts at metaphor — innovative, to be sure, but something that rises to the level of performance art far more readily than it does theatre as we know it.

A writer of prose and poetry in addition to his work as dramatist and director, M端ller late in life sought to cede more freedom to directors, choreographers, and designers, allowing each new production to be original and, in effect, entirely different. Into the mix, director Erika Tai and dramaturg Stephen Ludwig add a stark, postmodern industrial landscape and grotesque images of violence that allude to the playwright's roots in postwar East Germany. Tai's choreography, using the goosestep and harsh, slashing movements, meshes well with Derrick Chan-sew's sound design and a score that tends to the melancholy. As Hamlet, Steven Parker carries the bulk of the spoken text — more monologues than anything. Parker; Jessica Topliff, as Ophelia; and the five-woman chorus appear nude to no apparent dramatic end. Parker's scene design, which strikingly suggests that the United States of today is an embattled, impoverished post-Communist state, and Tai's powerfully anti-Bush, antiwar and anti-frivolous pop-culture video montages, are tantalizing visual elements. The final impression, though, is of a surreal, quasi-Absurdist experience, whose disparate parts pack more of a punch than the whole.

Presented by Rude Guerilla Theater Company at the Empire Theater, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. Also Thu. 8 p.m. Nov. 2. Oct. 13-Nov 4. (714) 547-4688.

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