By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“You could tell. Two weeks out, it was pretty clear that they had a lot of work ahead of them. But I’ve seen plays two weeks out that you think will be a disaster and they’re brilliant. But when we heard that they kept pushing back the opening, it was clear there were problems.”
Francesco was “very accommodating,” Heslov says. “In the scenes we did, he knew his lines. My take was less on Francesco and more on the director. He was a much bigger personality. If we wrote that character, he wouldn’t be believable. We were flies on the wall. The cameras were on, so I thought maybe [Mullen] was playing for the cameras. It wasn’t until I heard these guys got in a fight later on that we understood he was probably for real.”
“The way Aaron started dissing me. It was terrible mental abuse,” says Polonius. “I thought, maybe that’s what they do in England. Not too long into the show, I realized Aaron was a bully. I said, ‘You can’t do that to me.’”
March 19, 2004. Hamletis scheduled to open in three days. After the script-hurling debacle between Vitali and Mullen, Mullen storms out, Vitali postpones the opening, and rehearsals are canceled for one week. The cast joins Polonius at Birds to “try to figure a way to get out of this thing,” Claudius explains.
Claudius drives home to the Inland Empire, resolute that he’d had just about enough of small theater in Los Angeles, and of Hamletin particular.
On March 20, Vitali calls for a cast vote at the theater to determine whether the show should go on, whether Mullen should be allowed to return.
“I wanted Aaron to return on the condition that he apologize to all of the actors,” Vitali says.
“They did have this meeting, but I wasn’t there,” says Claudius. “I missed it on purpose. I was at a spa in Desert Hot Springs. Ophelia kept calling me every hour, but I never called back. They had the vote without me.”
They cast votes to keep doing the show, replacing Mullen with Nick Cagle (Horatio), supervised by Deanda.
Meanwhile, Mullen, who says the election was rigged, is quietly lobbying actors to boycott rehearsals until his own artistic and financial conditions are met. It doesn’t take long for the actors to reverse their own vote and resume following their leader, bully or not.
“There was never really a Francesco camp,” Claudius explains. “Most of the rage was directed at Francesco because he never knew his lines and he made the rest of us look pretty ridiculous. The only guy who got out was Laertes. He quit after the fight. He had a TV pilot, so he had a job to go to.”
Late March to early April. As part of his conditions to resume directing, Mullen gets Vitali to agree to put up Claudius in a hotel. At first, Claudius refuses to return Mullen’s calls, until Mullen leaves a message with Vitali’s offer.
“I was so exhausted because I live in Idyllwild. I have a wife and kid. They offered to put me up in some millionaire hotel. It turned out to be a motel near Hollywood and La Brea with these strange fumes. I was choking in there, so I open the window, and staring back at me is a billboard of Francesco’s Hamlet.”
Meanwhile, Kendall is concerned that Vitali appears to have stopped paying the theater’s operating costs. Kendall magnanimously pays the theater’s DWP bill himself. As he’s writing the check, he gets a call from a friend stuck on the 405 freeway who says there’s a bus right next to her with a poster of Vitali’s Hamlet plastered on the side. “Things must be going well over there,” she says.
March 27. After the first of two opening-night postponements, Vitali and Mullen meet outside the theater for the first post-fight rehearsal. Mullen agrees to reduce his $10,000 “grievance” demand to $5,000, payable in two installments. The remaining nine conditions (that Vitali learn his lines, hire a voice coach, etc.) remain the same. Inside the theater, Vitali and Mullen sign a contract in front of witnesses — including Vitali’s younger brother Michael, who had flown in from London to support his sibling. Vitali writes Mullen a check for $2,500 post-dated one week. Rehearsals resume.
Says Mullen, “The conversation I had with him in the last week was to please let the understudy [Nick Cagle] open the play, and take some time to learn your lines.”
April 9, Good Friday. For the third time in almost two weeks, Hamletis scheduled to open. Writes Mullen: “Afternoon dress run. Horrible. Staggering and pox-ridden. Halfway through Act II, the Dane whispers, ‘I must go, Aaarone.’ He duly disappears from the stage, summoned to Beverly Hills for personal jewelry duty. The understudy steps in to finish the [run-through]. The play flies. A different show. I can actually hearit.”
Vitali pays Mullen the second and final $2,500 installment of his grievance pay with a check, post-dated two weeks. When Mullen goes to cash it two weeks later, it bounces.
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