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SACRED FOOLS | FAST & LOOSE #20 - Francesco Vitali


In 2003, actor/producer Francesco Vitali purchased the Tamarind Theatre in Hollywood, specifically to mount his "upscale" production of HAMLET - with himself in the title role.

With funding from Gucci and un-named individual contributors, the show had a $300,000 advertising budget.  Images of Vitali in close quarters with a skull were seen all over town.

The show opened in April of 2004.  Critical reaction was... unanimous.

Something rotten indeed, forsooth

"Hamlet" at the Tamarind falls into that category of purgatorial theater -- a production so dreadful that a poor playgoer will surely receive comp time in the afterlife for merely sitting through it. From beginning to end, it is a royal pain in the arras.

Note to Francesco Vitali, who plays Hamlet (and happens to be the Tamarind's artistic director): Next time you mount such a blatant vanity production, try Neil Simon. It's easier to ad lib in contemporary English.

Speaking of English, the Greek-born Vitali has an accent so thick you can cut it with a rapier, complete with a Schwarzenegger "s" that he adds liberally where it doesn't belong ("Lady, shall I lie in your laps?"). Instead of rectifying that liability through projection and enunciation, Vitali proceeds to gulp his lines like a drowning man. Half his speeches are incoherent, and those that are roughly comprehensible are butchered. ("What a piece of work is the man.")

Unfortunately, the problem isn't confined to the star. Line amnesia and slurred speeches are rampant. A few performers manage to tread water in the vicinity of the shipwreck, but all hands are eventually dragged to muddy death.

Director Aaron Mullen has scads of reputable credits, but he can't stem the tide of disaster. This "Hamlet" is notable for its enormous advertising budget, evidenced by the big glitzy posters seen about town. That money would have been better spent hiring vocal coaches.

© 2004 L.A. Times (F. Kathleen Foley)

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. I confess to leaving during intermission, only because it was so apparent that this production couldnít possibly spring to life without re-casting Hamlet. No chance of that, given how the theaterís owner/artistic director, Francesco Vitali, plays the title role. Vitali has devoted for himself, and for only himself, a two-page bio-spread in the glossy program. Vitaliís brooding, actorly face fills one of those pages ó in case you missed it on the programís cover, or inset, or on the theaterís marquee, or on the billboards all over the city. Aaron Mullen directs Vitali in an intimate Strassbergian style with deep, truthful and churning emotions, while the star mangles Shakespeareís prose through a combination of indecipherable mumbles and an impenetrable Greek accent. Katy Brisboisí contemporary costumes feature lots of black silk shirts and cocktail dresses ó as though the fashion-model-pretty cast has just flown in from Sardis. Despite their impressive stage credits and runway good looks, they stand around on Marcel Prefontaineís barren set in front of the theaterís brick wall with all the enthusiasm of being in a police lineup, guilty by association. In defense of my bad behavior, I at least waited for the interval to flee; the entire back row didnít. Costumes for Mr. Vitali provided by Gucci. Original jewelry by Georgiano.

© 2004 L.A. Weekly (Steven Leigh Morris)

The production shut down within days of the publication of these reviews, and Mr. Vitali's highly entertaining website (with a "bio" that proclaimed him to be a "Philosopher... Dreamer... Explorer" and other such extravagant things, and also proclaiming "I laugh... I long... I mourn... I feel" - and featuring pictures of himself as Rudolph Valentino and Jesus) vanished from the Internet  - though it seems to simply be under reconstruction at the moment and will hopefully soon be fully back online for your enjoyment and edification.John Wuchte as "Francesco"

All this by way of explaining why we couldn't resist having a little fun at Mr. Vitali's expense the week of April 24th, 2004.

(Update:  On June 24, the L.A. Weekly published this article about the whole Vitali/Hamlet affair.)

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