MPC’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern breathes anew.
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Until last weekend, when I attended Monterey Peninsula College’s Rosencrantz&Guildenstern Are Dead!, it had topped my list of favorite plays I’d never seen performed. Now, thanks to Peter DeBono’s whip smart production of this Tom Stoppard classic, it may simply be my favorite play.
The play’s main characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are the two most insignificant characters in Hamlet , Western literature’s most significant play. Stoppard’s tremendously clever and soulful script yanks these two doomed pawns right off Shakespeare’s pages and dumps them on the road to Elsinore.
As minor players thrust uncomprehendingly into lead roles, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are handicapped by a complete lack of self-knowledge and purpose. The play is not Hamlet retold from their perspective; instead it illustrates the existential angst of two people caught up in events beyond their control and understanding.
In the title roles, Justin Gordon and Tim Hart are sensational. These are demanding parts, requiring two-and-a-half hours on stage, delivering fast-paced, give-and-take banter; they require spot-on timing and a wide spectrum of emotion.
Afflicted by a Waiting for Godot -esque amnesia, Hart’s cerebral Guildenstern rationalizes their bizarre and frightening situation while Gordon’s bewildered Rosencrantz simply reacts. Consequently, as the play marches to its inevitably tragic conclusion, Guildenstern responds with violence and anger while Rosencrantz passively accepts the circumstances of an unknowable universe.
Gordon and Hart imbue their respective characters with enthralling, believable emotional trajectories and manage Stoppard’s intelligent and frequently hilarious dialogue with a backhanded ease that belies its difficulty.
The only other character that Stoppard awards any amount of substantial depth and lines is The Player, an entertaining and slightly unsavory actor depicted by Ron Genauer. As the play’s catalyst and conscience, Genauer is brilliant, displaying shrug-shouldered lechery and a detached, but good-natured coolness as he tries to prepare Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for death.
Stoppard revels in the exploration of reality and consciousness by extending Shakespeare’s “play within a play” conceit to entirely encompass Rosencrantz&Guildenstern .
During his brief time on stage, Gavin Crane does Hamlet with the requisite melancholy and flamboyant madness. The rest of the royal family, Ophelia (Jennifer Sercia), Claudius (James Brady) and Gertrude (Sally Burns) perform their purely functional roles adeptly while Pat Stadille squeezes a lot of fine acting into the small role of Polonius.
Peter DeBono’s direction is flawless. This is the third time he’s directed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern , and it’s obvious he has an intimate relationship with it. The play contains some extremely difficult and technical transitions and DeBono, with help from set and lighting director William Strom and technical director Dan Beck, has created an inventive and effective show.
Forced to find fault, I would question the choice of using a background image for the final tableau and its accompanying voice-over. Regardless, this is a deeply satisfying production for fans of Stoppard’s play and for the uninitiated.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead plays Thurs at 7pm; Fri-Sat at 8pm; Sun at 2pm. Main Stage at MPC, 980 Fremont St., Monterey $25/general; $20/seniors; $15/students. 646-4213. Ends 5/23.