Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead - Theater Review

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead - Theater Review

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While discussing Absurdist Theater and specifically Waiting for Godot with a colleague once, we both agreed that Beckett’s famous play would be great if it were one act, if it ran around 30-45 minutes. My feeling about plays that are plotless and deal with existentialism by purposely withholding forward momentum hasn’t wavered.  Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is a late entry in the absurdist movement, which emerged and flourished the fifteen years following the end of World War Two. The absurdist movement was a direct result of the horrors of the war, which was so unfathomable; writers couldn’t approach it realistically, but absurdly as the whole experience felt unreal.  I think any absurdist play from that period is a tough sell today, especially a full length at the community theater level.  Modern audiences will be baffled and bored by scenes that go nowhere and the repetition of action and dialogue. I have no idea why CNY playhouse chose this play, and given their playbill later this year that includes another old time show, Arsenic and Old Lace, I’m wondering if they might want to pay a visit to Chicago or New York to check out some current plays and living playwrights (yes I know Tom Stoppard is still alive).

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the action of the play happens “backstage” or more appropriately in an alternative universe as the action of Hamlet unfolds elsewhere. Despite my personal bias, for the material, this is a very good production. It is crisply and intelligently directed by Alyssa Otoski  Keim and the cast is fantastic. Anchoring the ensemble are the fabulous Basil Allen and Tallon Larham as Guildenstern and Rosencrantz or is it Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, their identity is a running gag. Larham and Allen have tremendous chemistry and are inventive and charismatic players. They are often on stage for long periods of time with copious, complicated dialogue and they deliver with panache and precision. It would be very easy to get lost when scenes feel and look so similar. They both make such good choices, here. 

The rest of the cast is stellar as well. Derek Powell’s somewhat spastic Hamlet, is fun and lively. Strange David Fuller is excellent as “The Player;” the leader of the fictional play cast.  Part MC, part magician, part narrator, part manipulator, he has great stage presence and is a born entertainer. Great comic relief is added by the actor and actress playing King Claudius and Gertrude. Bill Doolittle’s self-important fame whore looks as if he belongs on a modern reality tv show-where the camera is always on. Kris Rusho plays Queen Gertrude as a loose cannon party-girl who cannot say not to any vice. Their entrances are hilarious and the show immediately picks up the second they arrive. The rest of the cast is game and funny too.  I loved all of the Tragedians.

Furthermore all creative elements are very good. I liked the costumes, the lighting, the minimalist set design and the stage compositions.

Ultimately my take on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is this: This is a very good production and specifically the actors should be commended for tackling a difficult, language heavy play, with great success. However, I think most theater goers, both casual and seasoned will be challenged to stay interested at a whopping two hours and forty-five minutes, as the plot goes round and round.

Through April 27 at Central New York Playhouse

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