Long live comedy
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
There’s good news for fans of Shakespeare jokes. Next weekend, Tahoe Acting Workshop brings Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead to the stage. Or, rather, to the beach. The nomadic theater company has no permanent venue to call its own, so this production is scheduled to unfold under the warm, August sky at Tahoe City’s Commons Beach.
Sisters Claire and Rachel Ferensowicz, who are Tahoe-ites and students at the University of California, Berkeley, star as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters penned by Shakespeare to enter and exit Hamlet, seemingly to help move the plot along.
They are so minor, says Brad Thompson, the company’s founding director, “You could do Hamlet and cut these two characters, and it would still make sense.”
In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Hamlet‘s two backstage drivers are elevated to title characters who embark on an absurdist romp through life’s big, existential questions: Why are we here? Who are we, really? What kind of control do we have? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wander about like the theatrical predecessors to Bill and Ted (you know, from their Excellent Adventures), occasionally stumbling into the story of Hamlet, where the action is pre-ordained and the “protagonists” are confused. Witty dialogue, silly situations and ridiculous coincidences abound.
Much of the play’s humor rests on the comic banter between the two characters. Thompson says the Ferensowicz sisters are the perfect actresses for the job. He notes that they demonstrated their expert comic chemistry, no doubt aided by siblinghood, in last year’s Romeo and Juliet.
Thompson remarks, “I’ve never met two people who have a better connection, which the characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern need.”
The 1990 film version of the story was probably funniest to English majors and Shakespeare fans, capitalizing on in-jokes that struck some as laugh-out-loud funny and left some scratching their heads. Thompson says he’s gone to some lengths to keep the Tahoe Acting Workshop’s version easily approachable.
“I think the play is more accessible [than the film],” he says. He’s added some dialogue to keep the Shakespearean references clearly sorted out, and, he mentions, “I’ve included a little synopsis of what happens, so people know what to expect.”
Another helpful twist in this version is a third character, the Player. In the film version, the Player manipulates Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, edging them toward the fate made plain by the story’s title. In this production, the Player is more into general orchestration. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern don’t know what to do, he’ll be there to bring them back in line.
Audience members aren’t the only ones who should have a learning experience with this play. Staging it, says Thompson, gives the community theater troupe an opportunity to pursue part of its own educational mission. Younger actors get to learn from older actors, who address things like how to create characters.
He continues, “There are some actors that are creating some characters that don’t even speak, no written lines, extending themselves. Using something like this play helps them grow so much more, so that they’re ready to pursue this to the next level.”