Saturday, July 23, 2011

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Jessica Delbridge and Allison Hirschlag
(Photo: Eli Sands)

In Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Shakespeare meets Beckett and a good time is had by all--except Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In Stoppard's absurdist tragicomedy, R&G are brought to the kingdom of Denmark at the order of the king and queen, who are concerned by Prince Hamlet's behavior. As they wait to speak to Hamlet, R&G try to suss out what is going on, play games to pass the time, are visited by The Player and his troupe of Tragedians, and ponder life, death, and other imponderables. This being a Stoppard play, there is word play and mathematical theory and tremendously funny set pieces.

Panicked Productions has chosen to present R&G Are Dead with an all-female cast. Explains director Glenn De Kler, "There are tons of talented and funny ladies out there [and] they wouldn’t ordinarily get a chance to sink their teeth into these great roles." The strong cast does indeed sink their teeth in, and their being women brings some interesting texture to the show. Although the characters are still referred to as male, there is a different meaning when a female Rosencrantz cries than when a male Rosencrantz cries. And the female Player's independence, command, and panache feel hard-won while a male Player can take these traits for granted.

More important than the cast's gender is their skills. Allison Hirschlag as Rosencrantz and Jessica Delbridge as Guildenstern are entertaining and touching. Whitney Kimball Long steals the show as The Player, as a good Player always does. The rest of the performers do well with multiple roles, and their acrobatics are great fun. I do wish the cast had been larger.

The show is well-directed by Glenn De Kler and movement director Chie Morita. De Kler and Morita make good use of the small space, using simple clever touches to provide visual variety and a sense of place; the scene at sea is so effective that I found myself swaying with the boat. In addition, virtually every line of dialogue is clear and comprehensible, something that one can no longer take for granted, as shown by the recent Arcadia on Broadway, where great swaths of dialogue went past like so much noise.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre only through July 29th. If you are a Stoppard fan in search of a solid, enjoyable production, get thee to 36th St.

(Press tix; first row.)


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Wendy Caster said...

By the way, the show is slightly edited--I didn't have the exact info in time for my review. The director says that a total of maybe five pages of small cuts were made. (It runs 90 minutes, no intermission.) I hate the idea of someone editing Stoppard, and I did notice some of the cuts, but on a whole it's still quite a good production.