"I have failed, Father." Photo by Sefton Stosh
"I have failed, Father." Photo by Sefton Stosh

Not to Be

Hamlet, Shakespeare's most famous play, resists generalization because any claim begs its opposite. So when I write that the production of Hamlet currently playing at Fullerton's Maverick Theater is an utter failure, I also have to recognize that the play itself requires failure in order to achieve success, though failure of quite another order. Let me explain.

It all begins with Hamlet the character—the great Dane who has occupied the world's greatest minds since his inception. Hamlet, at his most basic level, is an avenger—commissioned by the ghost of his father to kill Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, as punishment for sending Hamlet's father to an early grave so he, Claudius, could take over Denmark and the queen of Denmark's bed.

The problem, and necessary failure, is that this barbaric and seemingly simple task is given to the most aware and self-conscious character ever conceived by a playwright. It's like telling the Dalai Lama to pick up a loaf of bread at Ralph's—the context doesn't match the character. But take the character (Hamlet/Dalai Lama) out of the context (kill your uncle/buy bread), and you are left with complete insignificance—the recipe for dramatic failure. In order to turn this threat of failure into a successful production, a theater group has to embrace the transcendence of the play while recognizing the impossibility of their task—a daunting undertaking for even the most motivated and talented of production companies.

Lacking any sort of unifying concept, Maverick Theater's Hamlet, directed by Nick McGee, sets itself up for disaster. Their production looks like a traditional staging of the play, complete with men in tights and flats painted to look like a stone fortress. Their production is also clearly the Hamlet Show; however, their Hamlet (Christopher Goss) is all spittle and scorn, with too few moments of convincingly reasoned intellect or illuminating clarity. Failing to grasp the Hamlet Shakespeare created—the Hamlet who resists definition and profoundly affects everything and everyone he comes into contact with—Goss is an island, connecting with and affecting nothing even with the aid of cinematic music piped in to manufacture a shred of an emotional response from the audience.

Also problematic is the players' enactment of the "Murder of Gonzago"—the scene where a group of traveling actors portrays a scenario much like the one that took place when Claudius poisoned Hamlet's father and hastily married Hamlet's mother. Hamlet hopes that the "Murder of Gonzago" will reveal Claudius' guilty conscience, but the trite and silly play presented in McGee's version of Hamlet elicits anything but the heightened truth needed from this play within a play.

Maverick Theater's current production proves it takes more than expressively spoken iambic pentameter and a handful of Renaissance Faire costumes to pull off a successful staging of Shakespeare's most enigmatic play.

HAMLET AT THE MAVERICK THEATER, 110 E. WALNUT AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 526-7070. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 3 P.M. THROUGH FEB. 26. $10-$16.


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