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Barbecuing Hamlet, by Pat Cook
A must see.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
I must say, after watching Barbecuing Hamlet, that it very well could be the best kept secret in Atlanta Theatre.

Directed by Kevin Renshaw, this light hearted comedy deals with the story of Margo Daley, a New York director(Buffalo of course) who gets hired by an arts council in an unnamed hick town to direct Hamlet(which was picked by pulling plays out of a hat) with an old west theme. Complicating matters is a severe lack of actors(and talent), the aformentioned old west theme, and disasters that cause the play to jump around like it was made in "flashbacks", as Margo eloquently explains.

When I go to a community theatre, I expect to have a fun time, but I also expect to see more "performing" than "acting". In this play, I definitely saw the latter. Each and every actor was able to stay in the moment(with a couple exceptions), and create the suspension of disbelief necessary to make a show like this work.

The casting was absolutely perfect, with no one miscast. Hugh Chapman plays Sarge, the handyman of the building. He plays a curmudgeon, but he plays it with such a charm that anyone would chalk it up to "Sarge being Sarge". Mr. Chapman has a real smooth delivery, and combine that with his great comic timing, he is a threat to steal the show every single night.

Angel Escobedo plays Budgie, the local pizza delivery guy who delivers a pizza right in the middle of auditions, and ends up getting multiple roles, even though he has no acting experience. Angel smartly avoids the stereotypical southern hick accent, and goes for the gutsy choice of "surfer guy" with successful results. Even though he is small in stature, he plays it off perfectly, and I predict he has a bright future ahead of him. I hope to see more of him in the future.

Maggie Gasior is Tamara, the newly elected president of the fine arts council. Tamara is the sort of person that is optimistic to the point of delusion, and isn't willing to change that for anyone. This is actually a part that can be a bit dangerous because it's easy to overplay the character, but Maggie is very likable, and you believe in her when she says "it'll fit right in".

Kylene Compaan plays Margo and Jake McClain plays her visiting boyfriend Hal. Kylene is spot on as the flabbergasted director who is in way over her head, and Jake is spot on as her charming, and handsome, boyfriend who is thrown into an impossible situation by joining this play. I was most impressed with their chemistry together, with Hal being the soothing voice of reason to Margo's ever stressed out world. These are two actors that can make waves in the Atlanta acting community.

Barbara McFann plays Hope Halliday, another member of the arts council, and the self appointed enemy to new president Tamara. Hope is self centered, egotistical, grouchy, moody, and an insane misanthrope. The biggest surprise, though, is that you really don't go away hating her at all, and we can credit that to the supreme talent of Ms. McFann. You can compare Hope to that crazy aunt who is jealous of her sister, and thinks she knows all, but in the end you know she believes she has the best intentions.

Linda Place is brilliant in the small role of Theodora Van Horne, a completely delusional woman who believes she is bigger than she really is, and isn't afraid to let you know this. Theodora is the world's biggest contradiction, a self professed health nut who happens to have a short and stocky build, a "Hollywood star"(and one of the only two actors with any experience in Hamlet) who "chooses" to stay in that small town, thus lending credence to the big fish in a small pond theory, and a business owner who sells soy candles, an absolutely useless item in a backwoods town. Ms. Place breathes great life into this character, as it reminds you of the small town guy or girl who was the rare person to leave their town, and comes back a year later with stories to tell their kids for generations, whether they are fabrications or not.

Jim Gray plays Lamar, an everyday guy who decides to go out for "Hamlet" for the heck of it, despite having no acting experience whatsoever. The pleasant surprise of the show was the comic chemistry between Lamar and Theodora, and Mr. Gray and Ms. Place play off the physical comedy perfectly without going overboard.

Last, but not least, we go with Duncan, played by Michael Scarbro. Duncan is that ever jovial character, the uncle that your kids forever use as a jungle gym, and he's proud to accompany them. He also happens to have an inhuman appetite, which is demonstrated throughout the play as Duncan is always eating. As an actor, there is not a whole lot to see with Mr. Scarbro. He is not bad, being good enough to get out of his own way, but his obvious strength is his ability to improv. Mr. Scarbro has a razor sharp wit, and an innate ability to come up with the most inane stunts during an emergency in the play helped steal the show(such as eating a hot dog while updating his facebook page, which I am unsure if he actually went through with this, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did). We will see the likes of him real soon.

As mentioned, this play is a best kept secret, in my opinion. All the characters remind you of someone you know, and you can relate to some of the situations exhibited in the play, even in an offbeat way. The only thing that keeps this from being a 5 out of 5 was a few obvious flubs, but the talent and the experience of the actors allowed those flubs to be absorbed into the play, and that's not easy. Highly recommended.

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