For those not hip to the Shakespeare, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were a couple of minor characters in Hamlet; the two courtiers sent to "Glean what afflicts" Hamlet. As Tom Stoppard's title suggests, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do, in fact, die. Specifically, right around the end of Act IV, as part of an offstage plot twist. In what might be Tom Stoppard's most famous play, he has pirated Shakespeare's doomed duo, and given them their own little existentialist comedy, which shows what happens to these minor characters when they're not onstage during the events of Hamlet.
When not gleaning the melancholy Dane's afflictions, the two ill-fated courtiers hang around in limbo, discussing the nature of existence, frequently launching into comically abstract theories about life, yet never quite figuring it all out. Occasionally they interact with characters from Hamlet, including Hamlet himself, as well as the company of Players from Act II. Ultimately the story takes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on their fateful trip to England in Act IV.
The mere concept behind Stoppard's play is genius, and the comic interaction of this neo-vaudeville pair is so well-written that the script can pretty much carry itself in any production. Nevertheless, the Native Aliens Theatre Collective has given it a more than competent production, with Jim Festante and Matt Mercer being remarkably funny and sympathetic as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, respectively.
Surrounding Festante and Mercer was a solid cast, most notably Tyler Ashby Jones as the leader of the Players, giving a believably downtrodden and desperate edge to the down-on-their-luck acting troupe. Also of note was Paul Caiola, as Stoppard's wacky take on Hamlet, and Todd Monroe in his tiny role as Alfred, a member of The Player's company.
This production was set in the '60s, with the title characters as surfers (Queen Gertrude being rather Jackie-O-esque). The set by Jeff Seabaugh was an adequate representation of limbo, but the sparseness of the stage didn't do too well in the final act when the setting changed to a ship (essentially Limbo with some boxes stage right). Seabaugh, however, did a remarkable job as costume designer. Tyler Ashby Jones as the Player wore the tattered remains of an Elizabethan costume, and the rest of his company wore equally battered-looking outfits. Alice Bugman was stunning in her retro Jackie-O attire as well.
Jessica Hinkle's lighting design was very effective in the final act, when the sun rose slowly over the course of the scene. Director/ sound designer Mary Tarochione's sound also stood out during the final act, providing ambient ship background noise.
In a play with such magnificent dialog, the directing can often be upstaged by the writing. As a director, Tarochione's take on Stoppard's play was filled with funny subtleties (like the fact that Ophelia was carrying a copy of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus). The choice of time period was clever too, since the '60s setting was about the same time the play was written.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is one of Stoppard's greatest works, and this production certainly held its own with the material.
(Also featuring Danielle Duchkoff, Scott Gilmore, and Charles Wulster:)
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Copyright 2004 Charles Battersby