Gregory Maupin & Brian Hinds in Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead. Photo by Bill Brymer.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Amy Attaway
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Watching the current production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead from Kentucky Shakespeare was like seeing it for the first time, it’s that fresh and smart. Tom Stoppard’s post-modern masterpiece is absurdist and existential; catnip for academics in search of thesis projects concerning mid-Twentieth Century theatre, and director Amy Attaway’s production is all of that, but also a deeply satisfying entertainment. You’ll laugh a lot while you’re in the theatre, and be thinking about the play long after you have left.
Rosencrantz (Brian Hinds) and Guildenstern (Gregory Maupin) are two incidental characters from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet who Stoppard elevates to the spotlight, making their very inconsequentiality the theme of the piece. Various characters from the original play move in and out of the action: Hamlet, Ophelia, Claudius, Gertrude, & Polonius – mostly just before or after famous moments in Shakespeare’s tragedy. It is as if we are backstage watching the characters make exits and entrances, and that is the genius of the concept, the immediate questioning of reality that preoccupies the title duo’s protracted dialogue scenes about…nothing. This R&G made me think that if Stoppard were to create a situation comedy, it would probably resemble Seinfeld.
Another character, The Player (Matt Wallace) also takes a central role, illuminating some of the play’s conflict between reality and art in straightforward but farcical terms. Kentucky Shakespeare Artistic Director Wallace returns to the stage after a long absence and clearly is having a blast. In a rococo costume and outrageous fake curling mustaches, his characterization is indicative of the healthy embrace of slapstick and buffoonery.
Yet the physical comedy is wisely kept in balance. Stoppard’s language is carefully constructed, and it demands precision to achieve its full impact. The supporting cast includes actors from the 2013 Kentucky Shakespeare production of Hamlet revisiting their roles: Jon Patrick O’ Brien, Megan Massie, Jon Huffman, Kyle Ware, and Abigail Bailey Maupin, and other estimable work is delivered by Neill Robertson, Tony Milder, and Will DeVary. All are excellent.
Brian Hinds and Gregory Maupin are a dream team in the title roles. Physically similar enough and sharing a verbal dexterity and gift for timing, they realize the full measure of each and every syllable. Maupin’s fierce, intellectual technique has never been more aptly employed, and Hind’s knack for playing the empathetic savant is a beautiful contrast. As a pair, they make a sublime comedic team that leave you feeling that these characters were created just for them.
As was the case in last January’s Twelfth Night, Musical Director Jack Ashworth arranged music played on Elizabethan period instruments by John Aurelius, Anna Blanton, and Michael Vettraino. This year, the three were more integrated into the production, cast as members of The Player’s troupe and providing a more exact musical accompaniment for the action.
The design team also outdid themselves, with splendid costumes from Donna Lawrence-Downs, especially for R&G and The Player, while Jesse Alford’s subtle shifts in lighting were crucial to the staging in timing and effect. Karl Anderson’s set was blank enough, with the help of Laura Ellis’s suggestive Sound Design, to evoke a ship at sea while functioning as anything else it needed to be at any point in the play.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern question fate, probability, and whether or not their own existence is real or illusory in language of such great facility that one could easily be caught in the rabbit-hole of heightened self-awareness, yet the action is so well grounded by director Attaway (at her best here) that the audience is securely anchored against disappearing into their own navels.
Stoppard seems to be satirizing humanity’s narcissism and unique (we presume) ability for self-examination, and his work is not always thought to be accessible for general audiences, but to skip this R&G is to miss out on what promises to be one of the most enjoyable theatrical experiences of 2017. One that sets the bar for the next 12 months We will be talking about this one all year.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
January 3-8, 2017 @7:30pm
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Tickets available by calling 502-584-7777
or by visiting www.kentuckycenter.org
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.