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Fast-Paced `Hamlet' and Delightful `Five Guys'

HAMLET Tragedy by William Shakespeare. Directed by Paul Weidner. At the Criterion Center Stage Right. Through May 10.

A "HAMLET" at the edge - and sometimes over the edge - is the third production of the Roundabout Theatre Company's 26th season, its first on Broadway. Stephen Lang's Dane, more resentful than melancholy, sets the tone for the revival at the Criterion Center Stage Right. Blond-bearded Mr. Lang bristles and strides his way through a production that seeks to compensate with pace what it may lack in tragic depth.

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Paul Weidner sets the visual style of the production with designer Christopher H. Barreca's odd arrangement of canvas drapes (a convenient arras for the stabbing of Polonius) and a sidestage hillock down which king and court occasionally traipse. Action energizes the staging, from the supernatural excitement of the tragedy's earliest encounters to the riveting duel (directed by David Leong) that climaxes the play.

Lang and his director challenge the audience with a staccato reading in contrast to the occasional obbligato of muffled drumbeats. The star seems most at home with speeches like: "I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in." Eccentricities along the way include Hamlet's barefooted, straw-in-the-hair interpretation of Hamlet's madness. Is the spectator to infer that the princely derangeme nt is not altogether feigned?

A capable supporting cast furnishes an intelligent context for the central tragedy. James Cromwell provides a notable Polonius, a courtier whose experience as a politician deepens the concern that underlies his counsel to Ophelia. That hapless victim is movingly portrayed by Elizabeth McGovern, except when she is misled by Mr. Weidner's misdirection. Michael Cristofer and Kathleen Widdoes endow an overlascivious Claudius and Gertrude with a touch of royal class. Michael Genet's Horatio earns the accolade

I heard at intermission as "a kind of right guy."

The Martin Pakledinaz costumes feature black and gold motifs. Natasha Katz provided the underlighting. FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE Musical entertainment by Clarke Peters featuring Louis Jordan's 'Greatest Hits.' Directed and choreographed by Charles Augins. At the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.

"Five Guys Named Moe" is a holiday treat of a musical. This happy medley of Louis Jordan ditties is performed with energy, verve, and style by six guys named Jerry Dixon, Doug Eskew, Milton Craig Nealy, Kevin Ramsey, Jeffrey D. Sams, and Glenn Turner. The Jordan tunes may not be as familiar in 1992 as in their heyday. But who can resist the comic pleasures of "Messy Bessy," or the multi-syllable "Push Ka Pi Shi Pie"?

Under Mr. Sams's ebullient guidance, a preview audience took up the refrain and then took to its feet in a seemingly endless conga line.

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The second part of "Five Guys" includes a cabaret in which the performers offer such infectious numbers as "Let the Good Times Roll," "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens," and "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby." Reginald Royal conducts the vocalists and the excellent onstage band. The jazzy production was designed by Tim Goodchild with lighting by Andrew Bridge and costumes by Noel Howard.

For readers interested in nomenclature, the Moes include: Big Moe, Four-Eyed Moe, No Moe, Eat Moe, and Little Moe. Any moe would be superfluous.

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