March 25, 2014 > Theatre Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern delivers a date with fate
Theatre Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern delivers a date with fate
By Julie Grabowski
ÒUncertainty is the normal state. YouÕre nobody special,Ó The Player assures the bewildered title characters in Tom StoppardÕs Tony Award-winning comedy ÒRosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.Ó Called Òequal parts Hope and Crosby and Abbot and Costello, Marx Brothers and Monty PythonÓ by Broadway West director Ross Arden Harkness, the play is a backdoor look at ÒHamletÓ coupled with the existential anxieties, confusion of memory and duty, choice verses fate, and the meaning of death that plagues the leading characters.
Pulled from their minor roles in ShakespeareÕs famous tragedy, spun into leading men, and thrust into the spotlight of comedy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been summoned by the king and queen to discover the cause of their old friend HamletÕs madness. Along the way they meet a down-on-their-luck troupe of traveling players desperate for an audience. While not the choicest of entertainment, they are later retained by Hamlet to perform a too-close-for-comfort story that mirrors the horrifying chain of events that has led the royal family to where they are. After the playÕs disastrous results, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find themselves aboard a boat escorting Hamlet to England, which also carries the stowaway players. Caught between otherÕs plans and still plagued by uncertainty as to their roles, the two find themselves facing an unexpected, but inevitable end.
The play has been updated from its roots; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exchange traditional Elizabethan garb for saddle shoes, vests, and pork pie hats (then fezzes and captainÕs hats and back to the pork pies). So what exactly is the setting and time period you ask? ÒNone of Your Damn Business!Ó declares the program notes. The set is a vague chamber decorated in earth-tone panels covered with text from ÒHamlet,Ó and undergoes no alterations until the end of the play when it gets a shipÕs helm and some cargo barrels.
Other modern touches come in musical form: the Ô70s ballad ÒSometimes When We TouchÓ plays during an embrace between Hamlet and Ophelia, and a brief pirate encounter spurs the ÒPirates of the CaribbeanÓ theme music. Hamlet attempts to placate the pirates with the offer of a credit card, and a little gold statue emerges after The PlayersÕ unexpected death scene. While the updating doesnÕt harm the tenor of the play, the choices feel disjointed and too airy, leaving the audience as lost and rootless as Rosencrantz and Gildenstern themselves.
Despite wonderful language and wordplay, unevenly matched title characters and a pale supporting cast make this clever and fantastically fun play more of a drag than a delight. In what is perhaps a nod to the gender swapping performers of ShakespeareÕs day, two women take on the main roles. The quick talking Doll Piccotto carries most of the language luggage as Guildenstern and does a fine job, authoritative and settled in her characterÕs questions and confusion. But counterpart Angie HigginsÕ insistent buffoonery as Rosencrantz comes off as trying too hard and feels unnatural and uncomfortable, wearing thin very quickly.
Then enter Mr. James Lucas, unarguably the powerhouse and lifeblood of the play. As The Player, leader of the traveling Tragedians, Lucas is dynamic and commanding with every turn on the stage. He handles StoppardÕs language with a deliciously engaging delivery and is a hilarious bolt of electric energy.
ÒWhat was it all for?Ó laments Rosencrantz as the story reaches its end. You might find yourself asking the same thing when experiencing this unique play, but itÕs best to just let it wash over you and take the peaks and valleys of the comedy as they come. As The Player says, ÒRelax. Respond. ThatÕs what people do. You canÕt go through life questioning your situation at every turn.Ó
ÒRosencrantz & Guildenstern Are DeadÓ runs through April 19 and includes three Sunday matinees. March 30 and April 6 performances begin with a continental brunch at 12:15 p.m. and the show begins at 1 p.m.; the April 13 performance starts at 1 p.m. with refreshments during intermission (all refreshments are included in ticket price).
Tickets are $25 general and $20 for students, seniors and TBA members. Thursday, March 27, April 10, and17 performances are $17 for everyone, with a bargain Thursday on April 3 with all tickets $10 (no reservations Ð first come, first seat). Brunch Sunday performances are $25 for everyone. For reservations and information, call (510) 683-9218, or purchase tickets at www.broadwaywest.org.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
Friday, Mar 21 - Saturday, Apr 19
8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 1 p.m.
Broadway West Theatre Company
4000-B Bay St, Fremont
Tickets $10 - $25