Cal Shakes ends its summer season with one of the Bard's greatest works, "Hamlet." Set in modern times, "Hamlet" takes a bold look at the state of Denmark under director Liesl Tommy's inventive eye.

The entire cast makes its way on stage in a dreamlike state striking various tableaus as Horatio tells of the harrowing events at court. Utilizing Clint Ramos' dilapidated swimming pool setting, the characters must navigate piles of discarded furniture and toys, including a small rocking horse that Hamlet (a charismatic Leroy McClain) rides in several scenes.

Although I heard several reasons as to why this decrepit locale was used, it still didn't make much sense and certainly didn't add to the overall experience. I applaud, however, Cal Shakes' willingness to try new, bold ideas -- jumping into the deep end, so to speak.

While the set wasn't my favorite nor all the music and lighthearted frills, the cast did an excellent job telling Shakespeare's most famous story led by McClain as an all-too human Hamlet.

Dan Hiatt brings his excellent comedic timing to Polonius and the Gravedigger; with Nicholas Pelczar a worthy Laertes; Zainab Jah a shy, delicate Ophelia; and Julie Eccles as the Stepford wife-like Gertrude.

Having just lost a parent myself, I finally get that Hamlet isn't so much indecisive rather a son who just needs time to grieve -- something his mother's hasty marriage has denied him.

"Hamlet" continues through Oct 14 at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda. Call 510-548-9666 or go to www.calshakes.org.


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    Diablo Actors' Ensemble opened "The Last Romance" this past weekend starring the amazing Stu Klitsner and Barbara Grant. Seeing these two consummate performers in DAE's intimate Locust Street theater in Walnut Creek is a treat. The cast also features Ann Kendrick and Christian McCooey.

    The show runs through Oct. 6. Call 866-811-4111 or go to www.diabloactors.com.

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    Last chance to get your Frank Sinatra fix as Diablo Theatre Company continues "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra" through Sept. 29, at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts.

    The tribute features Michael Kern Cassidy, Chloe Condon, Jessica Fisher and Carlos Lopez as they present a plethora of great tunes from Sinatra's prolific career.

    The talented singers share the stage with Cesar Cancino's wonderful three-piece combo as well as eight talented dancers. For tickets, call 925-943-SHOW (925-943-7469) or go to www.lesherartscenter.org.

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    A hot-tempered stepfather, the death of his wife and one of his stepdaughters, and the fears of the remaining daughter have Sherlock Holmes on the case in the Orinda Starlight Village Players' final production of the season, "The Speckled Band."

    Unfortunately, Holmes doesn't really have much to do in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's uncomplicated plot. Adapted from one of Doyle's short stories, "The Speckled Band" lays out all the clues in such a heavy-handed way that you would assume it's one of his clever red herrings. But not so -- it is quite easy to name the murderer and even the method of death long before Act I winds to its lengthy close.

    First-time director Charles Guitron has taken on the not-so-mysterious murder mystery and added an opening scene to show the stage combat skill of cast members Ken Sollazzo, Jesse McKinnon and Tom Badillo.

    While the scene has nothing to do with the plot, it does add a sense of action thanks to Badillo's expertise. Unhappily, the production itself could use a bit more action and a much faster pace and sense of urgency.

    McKinnon, as Holmes, is a nice addition to the Starlight family while old-timer Sollazzo does a fine job as his versatile assistant. Geotty Chapple creates the affable Dr. Watson with Ann O'Connell a delightful Mrs. Staunton and Vicki Zabarte a treat as Ali.

    "The Speckled Band" continues through Sept. 29, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday, and at 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, at the Orinda Community Park Amphitheater. Blankets and cushions provided should the evening grow cold.

    Call 925-528-9225 or go to www.orsvp.org.

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    Opening this weekend at Lafayette's Town Hall Theatre is Larry Gelbart's (of "M*A*S*H" fame) tale of San Francisco's Barbary Coast, "Sly Fox," which runs through Oct. 20. Call 925-283-1557 or go to www.townhalltheatre.com.

    Contact Sally Hogarty at sallyhogarty@gmail.com.