By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
April 9, Good Friday. Hamletopens. Writes Mullen: “The theater is filled with family, friends and freaks. I’m sipping vodka and humming, ‘Brush up your Shakespeare.’ Ignoring the 8 p.m. curtain, the Dane has an extremely important 11th-hour meeting with his hairdresser and makeup artist. At 8:20 p.m., he is relaxing in his dressing gown, when I suggest he might like to mosey on over to the stage, as the house is heaving. ‘I like you because you’re a Pisces, Aaarone,’ he tells me.
“‘Break a leg, Franko.’”
Hamlet’s great soliloquies are indecipherable, while the supporting players perform with all the confidence and enthusiasm of being in a police lineup.
“I don’t know what happened, I just went completely blank,” says Claudius. “I started improvising in iambic pentameter. I think the Timescaught it, but I was lucky they didn’t mention me by name.”
Meanwhile, Polonius says he came out too early on an entrance only because Vitali had forgotten his lines.
“Polonius is supposed to have 10 entrances and nine exits [because he dies], but after Aaron had hacked the play so horribly because of Francesco, it was hard to keep track.”
April 9, Good Friday. After the show, Vitali invites cast and crew to celebrate the opening at his home.
“It was at the back end of Bel Air,” Claudius recalls. “It could be in any Valley street, but it’s in Bel Air. Maybe three or four bedrooms, a comfortable house, but it’s not a mansion.”
“I met his family,” says Vitali’s publicist, Eileen Koch. “They’re extremely charming, generous people, nice people. His mom and his brother, they all came over here for the opening, from London, from Greece. They were very nice, warm people.”
“They invited everybody, the entire cast and crew, but only three of us showed up,” Polonius adds.
Tuesday, April 13. Vitali fires the running crew, thereby closing the show, but neglects to tell Mullen or the cast, who gather at the Tamarind for a 2 p.m. brush-up rehearsal. They discover the theater closed, and the locks changed.
Thursday, April 15. The first review appears, a scathing notice in the L.A. Weeklythat references the billboards and the mangling of Shakespeare by Vitali.
Friday, April 16. The second and final review appears, a scathing notice in the L.A. Timesthat references the billboards and the mangling of Shakespeare by Vitali.
Late April. Alan and Kendall take back full possession of their theater due to breach of contract. A notice is posted on the theater door: “Francesco Vitali is no longer associated with the Tamarind Actor’s Studio.”
“It was a big nightmare. I don’t want to go through this ever again,” Francesco Vitali reflects.
“We had to return the cost of 1,100 tickets to people who paid in advance. I went into a big depression. At first, I was driving in Orange County. I didn’t even know where I was going.
“Even with these guys [Alan and Kendall], we had some issues, because they broke our agreement, even in the end they said to me, whatever you want, please keep the theater, don’t give up. I felt it was my time to walk out of there. Since April 11, I haven’t been in the area. I haven’t even been to pick up my personal belongings. I don’t have the strength to go in again.
“But I’m not bitter. I’m so proud that I’m here. This country is giving me lessons and opportunities and keeping me alive. My producers are still behind me. And my friends. Nice American friends.”
Mullen says he’s mainly upset for the talented actors who invested so much time and commitment into a project that went nowhere. He says he pleaded with Vitali to allow the understudy to do the role, even after the reviews, just to keep the production alive. “But his ego was always surpassing his business sense,” Mullen laments.
Alan and Kendall would like to put a hideous year behind them, and want the city to know that Tamarind Theater is open and ready for business.
Perhaps the best news of all is that Vitali will continue to do live theater. He says he’s currently in Greece directing a concert tour of pop star Keti Garbi, whom Vitali describes as “something like Madonna.” Nor is Vitali giving up on America.
“I’m doing a national tour with a new play, a musical, and we’re going to go all over the country,” he says. “It’s an Equity production with the same investors, they’re big supporters. It’s called Dreams.”