Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
The Actor’s Theatre has a penchant for staging meaty, challenging scripts that give you lots to think about. This modern classic by Tom Stoppard exemplifies the pattern, with high-level wordplay and a fascinating structure that borrows characters and scenes out of Hamlet. The play focuses on two minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who get sucked into the deadly conflict that dominates Shakespeare’s play.Hamlet, of course, is famous for agonizing over what he should do about his evil, usurping uncle Claudius. Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are likewise uncertain when Claudius hires them to scope out what’s really on Hamlet’s mind. It’s a game of hurry-up-and-wait. Echoes of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist classic Waiting for Godot (which will return to the Actor’s Theatre next year) are very much intended.
What’s best about this production is the interplay between Michael Claudio (Rosencrantz) and Anthony D’Juan (Guildenstern). Both are talented young actors who take advantage of the loopy humor and gloomy portents of death that shimmer in the dialogue between their characters. Ed Claudio is also excellent as The Player, with his devastatingly sad and funny remarks about acting and life in the theater. (Is it art, prostitution or both?) Gabriel Montoya wanders through as Hamlet, creating sparks whenever he appears.
The remaining members of the cast are community actors who don’t shine as brightly as the leads. Technical aspects are bare-bones basic, as with most of this company’s shows. There were a few bobbled lines, entrances and light cues on opening night.
But you know what? It’s a great Stoppard play. Even though this low-budget production doesn’t spark on every cylinder all the time, people seeking brain food (and lovers of serious work) will get a lot more out of this production than some glossier, higher-rated productions elsewhere around town.