By TAMAR NEUMANN: I always think that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a comedy. You’re probably thinking, “Well that’s because it is.” But, is it really a comedy? It certainly has comedic moments. In fact, it actually has one of my all-time favorite scenes—“The Question Game.” Those of you familiar with the play will know what I am referencing. Every time I see, or read, that scene I want to do two things: first, I want to play that game, and second, I want to be able to write something as fun and witty as that game. But that scene aside, I am always struck by the deep questions this play posits. I sit down to laugh until I cry, but instead I end up crying more than laughing.
In the production by The Acting Company, in connection with the Guthrie Theater, the director, John Rando, emphasizes the laughing aspect of this play. The deep questions are still there, but they are less noticeable among the antics of Ian Gould (Guildenstern) and Grant Fletcher Prewitt (Rosencrantz). Everyone, including Hamlet (John Skelley), seems to be having a good time, even if the play is building to the deaths of poor Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The set is simple, which emphasizes the loneliness of these two characters. They are in a play, but they have little to do. And the stage gives them even less to do.
Both Gould and Prewitt do a superb job of finding the strengths and weaknesses of their characters. They have taken two Elizabethan characters and created a little bromance—if bromances included both characters dying at the end. Both their line delivery and their physical comedy is spot on. They truly understand these characters and what makes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern work.
What really makes this play work is its ability to take the stodgy scenes of Hamlet and make them hilarious. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate Hamlet for all its genius, and everyone should see it onstage at least once in their life, but sometimes it just needs to lighten up. This production makes that happen. Each scene with the characters of Hamlet manages to draw out the absurdities of what’s happening. As Rosencrantz and Guildenstern discuss what could be wrong with Hamlet, you begin to understand just how ridiculous this whole situation is. And there are a few gems that I won’t spoil between Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that will make you laugh out loud. I never realized Hamlet (the character and the play) could be so funny.
This play is playing in repertory with Hamlet. There really isn’t a better combination of plays to put together. By watching both you may gain insights to each that you wouldn’t have gained by watching them alone. If you have two nights free, check them out. You may not have a chance like this again.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard. April 22-May 4, 2014. The Acting Company in Association with the Guthrie Theatre, 818 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis, MN 55415. Tickets: $25-$45; purchase tickets at guthrietheater.org or 612.377.2224.