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Theater review: 'Hamlet, Prince of Darkness' at Zombie Joe's Underground

May 26, 2011 |  6:30 pm

HAMLET@ZJU_PIC_3 "What a sick and twisted little psychopath am I" says the title character in "Hamlet, Prince of Darkness." He's putting it mildly. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group turns Shakespeare's indestructible classic into screamingly funny late-night lunacy.

Adapted with savage wit by Richard Nathan, "Prince of Darkness" is representative of the company's renegade ethos, and then some. The narrative finds Elsinore beset by vampires, satanists and (what else?) zombies, to name but three of many tongue-in-cheek targets.  If Trey Parker and Matt Stone held a séance to contact the late Ernie Kovacs while using a Classics Illustrated comic book for rolling papers, this mad mash-up might be the result.

Director Denise Devin sustains a tone at once deadpan and demented around the bare black box space. Her brilliantly sui generis ensemble ranks with the best comedy troupes in town. Robert Walters brings ace ironic timing to bloodsucking Hamlet, uproarious opposite Clare Wess Yauss' literally vibrating Ophelia and Patrick O'Neal's grandly gyrating Laertes.

Jim Cox gives usurping ghoul Claudius a loopy blank stare that elicits chortles all by itself.  Melissa Okey's smirking Gertrude suggests the young Jean Stapleton on LSD. Frank Leone's bespattered Polonius, Evan Boelsen's maniacal Ghost, Irene Conde's ribald Satan and Amy Bartlett and Rebecca Silberman as a justifiably nervous Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are other notable turns.

Their breakneck attack on the textual irreverence may give purists a coronary. Yet when pop-culture smarts meet garage-theater anarchy with such unpretentious zip, only pedants should cavil.  "Hamlet, Prince of Darkness" is hardly high art, but it's certainly unhinged fun.

-- David C. Nichols

 "Hamlet, Prince of Darkness," ZJU Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 11 p.m. Fridays. Ends June 24. $15. (818) 202-4120.  Running time: 1 hour.

Photo: Patrick O'Neal, left, and Robert Walters. Credit: Zombie Joe.