Rosencrantz and Guildenstern liveRosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard; presented by the MIT Community Players in Kresge Little Theatre; directed by Thomas Hunter Hirschman; produced by Robert A. Granville; additional performances Feb.28, March 1-2; $5.00, $4.00 for the MIT community.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, but this play certainly isn't. An anthem to philosophy, psychology, probability, and drama, it plunges through its material like an explorer with a machete in the jungle. This play is entropy on the stage; it moves through a wide gamut of topics in a sometimes exhilerating, sometimes confusing blend of comedy and rhetorical philosophy.
"Audiences know what to expect" in a drama, argues one character in this play, "and that's all they're prepared to believe in." But one never knows what to expect next in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and one isn't actually expected to believe in anything. A very cerebral play, it tries to blend entertainment with thought-provoking questions.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is full of bad puns, ponderings on metaphysics, and references to other plays. A hodgepodge of characters, costumes, and themes, it soars past conventional dramatic standards as the two main characters stand up on the stage and tell us what it's like to be characters in a play.
But who are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, anyway? In case you're not up on your Shakespeare, they are minor characters in Hamlet, and the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead uses those characters to explore Hamlet in specific and tragedies in general.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are always getting their names mixed up, are elevated from supporting characters to stars, and they proceed, through egoism and rhetoric, to turn Hamlet inside out. Instead of seeing the story from Hamlet's point of view, we see it from that of his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. And they aren't just concerned with Hamlet and his family, as in Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also investigate death, drama, sanity, and their own freedom as characters.
Our two heroes are coaxed into acting as psychologists for Hamlet. They don't really want to do it, but what can they do? They are only characters in a play, and have no control over their actions.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are definitely the main characters here, and they are very well played by Phillip Patrone and Adele G. Sands respectively. Both are convincing as actors on the many levels of the drama. They act as tour guides to the audience through the strange journey upon which Stoppard would have us embark.
They play off each other well and complement each other, although Patrone has more stage charisma. One wonders why a woman was cast in what Shakespeare intended to be the male role of Guildenstern, but it really has no effect on the mechanics of the play, and I rather liked the effect.
The rest of the cast is solid, but pretty much relegated to secondary positions in Patorne's and Sands' showcase. Of note are Jamie Higgins as the frantic and somewhat insane Hamlet and Brian Wolfe-Leonard as The Player, the leader of a traveling pornographic drama company.
The rest of the production is pretty standard, in sharp contrast to the play itself. Theater afficionados must see this play, while casual theater-goers may or may not like it. In any case, one has to admit Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is interesting. You won't fall asleep.