ANW Continues Exploration of the late 20th Century Classic

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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A Noise Within’s co-Artistic Director, Geoff Elliott, brings life to the late 20th Century classic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at a time when our social collective seems to reflect the anxiety of an unhinged ruler ricocheting the ship of state toward an uncertain future.  In 1967 when it was first produced, Tom Stoppard’s play reflected much the same discontent emerging from the existential disquiet of a new youthful movement.

 

Stoppard centers his play on two friends in Hamlet that figure only tangentially in Shakespeare’s original play, embuing them with clownish introspection that mimics Laurel and Hardy as much as the tramps in Beckett’s Waiting For Godot.  Played with youthful ambivalnce, Rosencrantz (Kasey Mahaffy) and Guildenstern (Rafael Goldstein) bumble through their existence, making up activities for themselves to while away the time.

 

On their way toward Elsinore they meet a band of tragedians, the next most tangential group in Shakespeare’s play, headed by “The Player” (the marvelous Wesley Mann),.  Elliott depicts the band of bedraggled exiles, as they must have been in Shakespeare’s time. The one jewel they possess seems to be Alfred (Sam Christian), a poor, abject child who plays all the women’s roles. In this age of #Me too, he seems less a comic than an endangered figure.

Upon reaching Hamlet’s castle Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have an opaque perspective on the passing scene as they overhear key intrigues or bask in the momentary attention from Hamlet (an engaging Paul David Story), or bombastic Claudius (Jonathan Bray) and helpless Gertrude (Abby Craden).

To tell the story, a series of movable set pieces (designed by Frederica Nascimento) move from indistinct mounds astride the stage that wind up outlining a sailing vessel in ANW’s trademark choreographic set transformations. Jenny Foldenaur’s costumes ranging from traditional for the characters in Hamlet to the grotesque, embellish the fever-dreaming mood. Ken Booth’s modeled lighting defines each location along the way, but, as a side note, the presence of stage fog doesn’t really add.

In keeping with the dictates of the script, the play falls into three acts and running time seems whittled down through judicious pruning of the Shakespearean sections. The end result, though, accentuates Stoppard’s youthful yet sincere imitation of Becket’s Waiting For Godot. It’s interesting, always, to see how cutting a play may skew its overall impact.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead figures among the first of many off-kilter approaches to classical works by modern playwrights. Comparing originals with their sequels or tributes provides us with new assessments, entertaining and enriching at the same time. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Stoppard has done it all.

 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern performs in repertory with Portrait of Dorian Gray through November 18th, 2018,  at A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena 91107. See www.anoisewithin.org for complete schedule. Ticket prices start at $25.00 with Student and Group rates available. Phone (626) 356-3114 or online at www.anoisewithin.org.