Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead at Lakewood

“It insists upon itself, Lois.”
by Michael Dresdner

L to R: Paul Richter, Frank Roberts    All photos by Tim Johnston 

Lakewood Playhouse is currently presenting a long Tom Stoppard double feature of Shakespearean bent; The Fifteen Minute Hamlet followed by Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead.

Both plays are quite well done, with strong individual and ensemble casts, good direction by Beau M. K. Prichard, a thoroughly appropriate set (Blake York) and props (Karrie Nevin), and excellent sound (James Venturini), lighting (Aaron Mohs-Hale), and costumes (Rochelle-Ann Graham). In short, the theatre did a fine job with both these plays, but let’s look at them more closely, one at a time.

The Fifteen Minute Hamlet 
The Fifteen Minute Hamlet is a thirteen minute, lickety-split, highly truncated, comic version of Hamlet, followed by a two minute version of the play as an encore, and in this iteration, another one minute encore of the same.

I assume it was presented beforehand merely as a refresher for those who are shaky on their Shakespeare, since it does not go into enough depth to explain Hamlet if you don’t already know it. There is perhaps some irony in the fact that Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are not actually in The Fifteen Minute Hamlet, but we’ll ignore that.

Led by a very impressive and physically adept actor playing Hamlet (Dylan Twiner), the ensemble cast did an excellent job. The same actors appear in both plays, and appropriately, in the same roles.

My one complaint was with the signs actors wore with their character’s names on them. Because they were written in fine lines on white cardboard under strong lights, we could not read them from where we sat. (Yes, I know who they were by their lines, but then, I know Hamlet.)

L to R: Paul Richter, Dylan Twiner, Frank Roberts 

Once over, it is followed immediately, without intermission, by the main event, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead. As you probably know, Rosencrantz (Frank Roberts) and Gildenstern (Paul Richter) are two very minor characters in Hamlet. Old friends of Hamlet’s, they appear briefly, are enlisted as spies against their old friend, accompany him to England, and conveniently disappear, only to be announced as dead at the end of the play.

Here they become the main characters, spending much of their time where the actors playing them really would be; backstage waiting for their entrance. This explains the brick wall set, that looks, appropriately, like the wings of a stage.

L to R: Frank Roberts, Paul Richter 
While waiting around, they engage endlessly in games, deep and largely directionless philosophical discussions, and various contemplations of the purpose of their existence. This is ironic because they are, after all, merely fictional characters.

They meet a troupe of actors (led by the excellent Nathan Rice, who is also the fight choreographer) heading onstage to do the “play within a play,” meant to trigger guilt in Hamlet’s murderous uncle. This inspires yet another foray into the meaning of life, theatre, and the universe.

Nathan Rice (foreground) and his troupe of actors

As I said, the entire cast and crew are worthy of praise, with a special nod to Roberts and Richter for doing the heavy lifting with massively wordy line loads. Kudos to everyone involved, on and off stage.

Now for the tough part, where I have to give you enough information about the nature of the play to decide if it is something you would enjoy, or at least want fervently to see.

Sigh. Here goes.

This is a long, and more pointedly, a long-winded and very wordy play, heavily larded with the sort of philosophical musings reminiscent of Waiting for Godot. To be honest, it reminded me of the many endless nights I spent at college in just such meandering discussions with my fellow philosophy majors. Of course back then, we were often – oh, who am I kidding – ALWAYS stoned.

Was it well executed? Yes, absolutely.

Is this sort of thing going to be compelling for you? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead and The Fifteen Minute Hamlet
​April 14th through May 7th 2017
Lakewood Playhouse

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