Tom Stoppard is a master of words and a firm subscriber to the Theatre of the Absurd. This can be disconcerting to some audience members who may find Stoppard’s work a bit hard to follow and a bit too repetitious and a bit long-winded, but, no matter what you call it, the wordsmith can really tell a story.
Case in point, Lakewood Playhouse’s current production of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead.”
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a couple of lesser known and somewhat unimportant characters in William Shakespeare’s tragic story of “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.” They were childhood friends of the Melancholy Dane who became couriers for Hamlet’s uncle, King Claudius, after the king murdered Hamlet’s Father, King Hamlet and took his widowed mother Gertrude as Claudius’s wife and queen.
Now, if you happen to be unfamiliar with the tragic story of Hamlet, Lakewood Playhouse first presents Stoppard’s take on one of the Bard’s best known works with his own rendition of, first, “The Fifteen-Minute Hamlet,” followed immediately by “The Ten-Minute Hamlet,” ending with the Five-Minute Hamlet” – all within the prescribed 30 minutes!
This show starter is a great show stopper! It is filled with just about every famous quote Hamlet has dropped off the tip of Shakespeare’s quill since the Bard wrote it around 1600 – not the least of which are “Something’s rotten in the stage of Denmark,” “This above all to thine own self be true” and, most importantly, “To be or not to be.”
The most amazing thing about the three Hamlets is that the actors are able to remember which time length they are doing as all the blocking and the lines are the same, just truncated and faster.
The main reasons for the success of this part of the production belongs to the director Beau M. K. Prichard and his Hamlet, Dylan Twiner – more about Twiner later.
Prichard handles the complete production with unbelievable understanding of the playwright’s idea and gets the point over to the audience. However, even if some of the audience has a problem following the point, they must be enthralled by the shear beauty of the direction and acting ability of the cast.
After catching our breath from the speed of the three Hamlets, we are introduced to the titled characters of the play – who just appear on stage playing the coin-flip game, which comes up heads – for all 92 flips!
Unfortunately, neither Rosencrantz nor Guildenstern knows where they are nor why they are where they are or even which one is Rosencrantz or which one is Guildenstern!
The pair continue their attempt to determine their whereabouts with questions and answers of each other which sometimes lead to a modicum of understanding the solution to their dilemma.
During their speculation, a band of Tragedian actors and members of the royal household briefly appear on stage acting for or interacting with the undaunted duo, thus further advancing the story of Hamlet and bringing this “slice of death” play to its tragic end where all central characters die except Hamlet’s life long friend, Horatio, whose final quote of “Good night sweet prince and flights of angles sing thee to thy rest,” brings on a courier from England announcing that as requested by the king, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are dead,” ending the play.
Prichard’s direction, as previously stated, is right on. Working with his magnificent cast, the timing of the actors’ verbal repartee and movements is just long or short enough to keep the audience involved so that the almost two and a half hour production “trips lightly on the tongue.”
Blake R. York does a very workable set in the same disconnected-from-the-era style, which offers a brick wall which could be in a modern high school gym, compete with floor to ceiling ropes available for climbing and a few strategically placed boxes which are instrumental to the story.
Rochelle-Ann Graham compiles the costumes which nicely follow the play’s off-beat theme. Aaron Mohs-Hale does the lighting design, including a wonderful gobo moon. James Venturini does sound with madrigal pre-show and intermission music. Alyshia Collins is Stage Manager.
The cast is as good as the production, all doing able work. Bending the rules of Shakespeare’s time, when women were not permitted on stage so their parts were always played by young boys, Prichard has cast several young women in his ensemble as men.
The Tragedians, includes Jennifer Davy as Alfred; Shelby Isham as Santiago, Breann Nichols as Ned, Silva Goetz as Olaf, Theresa Byrd as Percival and Noah Goucher is Wulfric. The distaff side of the players does a nice job of hiding their femininity while playing various minor roles. Goucher holds his own as the only man in the group.
Ben Stahl plays the evil King Claudius with a glint of a maniacal smile on his face. Dayna Childs is his fallen wife, Queen Gertrude, who loved her brother-in-law more than her husband and her son. This plotting couple is both believable in their roles of lovers with evil intent.
W. Scott Pinkston is Polonius, the advisor to the king and confidant to the queen. Pinkston wears his role as well as he wears his robes.
Gabi Marler is Ophelia, Polonius daughter, who loves Hamlet and is driven mad by his madness. Marler is good as the shy young girl and equally so as the victim of lost love.
Paul Richter is Guildenstern and Frank Roberts is Rosencrantz. It is as difficult to part these actors as it is to part their roles – even the characters have a problem with which one they actually are. It is enough said that they are both excellent in the roles. Their timing is great, their interpretation of the characters is spot on and their repartee is perfect. It is a pleasure to watch and listen to their rapid banter.
Nathan Rice is The Player, the leader of the Tragedians. Rice is a very good actor made for Shakespearian roles. His voice control, timber and fluid enunciation are perfect for the part of the pompous, self-assured Player; very nice work.
Dylan Twiner is Hamlet. Twiner is Hamlet in every sense of the term. He looks the part, he walks the part, he is the part. Although Twiner did R & G’s Hamlet with tongue in cheek, it is close enough to see that it would be an unforgettable experience to see the consummate actor create the role in its entirety. Take heed, John Munn.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” continues at The Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, just behind the Pierce Transit Bus Depot through May 7, each Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. There a Thursday Pay-What-You-Can performance scheduled April 27 and a Pay-What-You-Can Actor’s Benefit performance, May 4; both at 8 p.m.
For more information or reservations, call the box office at (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.
“Hamlet” is one of the world’s great tragedies; it’s been around for more than 400 years and it will last forever; there is no question about that.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” gives that tragedy a remarkable comedic turn. It is a night of good theatre that gives the audience a chance to laugh about it and think about it. That’s what good theatre does. Don’t miss it.