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Excaliber Shakespeare Company, at Hidden Stages Chicago.

This is one of the most difficult plays in the classical repertoire, featuring no less than four plots--one romantic, one comic, one political, and one fanciful, each with its own mood and tempo. If the personalities, motives, and relationships of the characters are not immediately comprehensible at all times, the audience will quickly get lost in Shakespeare's tangle of genealogy, duplicity, and bolt-from-the-blue resolutions.

Faced with so daunting a project, the enthusiastic but uneven Excaliber Shakespeare Company founders. Director Darryl Maximilian Robinson seems to have given no thought to a consistent mode of presentation to unify the disparate story lines; instead he gussies up his production with disco-dance spectacles, superfluous pantomime, and songs ranging from four-chord folk to monotonal punk.

Taking for himself the role of Prospero, Robinson kicks up a tempest of his own, strutting, swaggering, swirling his cape like a matador, and generally chewing up the scenery like a brontosaurus at a table for one. The other actors, pretty much left to fend for themselves, veer between prim recitations and mugging, producing nary a trace of a discernible character. Only Aaron Watkins's tattooed, skinheaded Ariel manages to steal a scene or two from the grandiose Robinson, and Philip John Gibbs's Stefano and James Silverstein's Trinculo generate the kind of tag-team chemistry that so brightened ESC's recent debut production. When these three are absent, they're missed.

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