By Tom Stoppard; Directed by Thomas R. Gordon
Produced by Onomatopoeia Theatre Company
Off Off Broadway; Play Revival
Runs through 11.21.15
Gene Frankel Theatre, 21 Bond Street, Manhattan
by Aiden Dreskin on 11.9.15
The cover image of the playbill for Rosencrantz Guildenstern are Dead.
BOTTOM LINE: A fun and intriguing romp through the background of a classic story.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. At least, they will be. Then again, maybe not. The answer to this question and many more will not be found during any given performance of the popular Tom Stoppard play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, performed by the Onomatopoeia Theatre Company at the Gene Frankel Theatre. The play, a loose adaptation of Hamlet, tells the story of the two—less famous—friends of the tragic Prince of Denmark, as they experience the trials of being pawns in the affairs of their superiors. Walking through their lives in a sort of daze, the titular characters (played by Miranda Jean Larson and Jocelyn Vammer, respectively) never seem to have all the information, forcing them down the path that leads to their ‘inevitable’ fate.
Throughout the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are buffeted repeatedly by the Tragedians, a traveling company of performers who also portray the royal entourage of Denmark from the original play. They punctuate the events of the plot with ridiculous and lewd performances, excerpts from Hamlet, and one excellently choreographed sword fight, aiding the sense of confusion and unease that pervades the story. However, despite their reputations as entertainers, the troupe’s antics are never quite as engaging as the verbal duels between the protagonists.
The two friends work their way through each scene using only their wits and the information immediately available to them, turning every moment into a game where the duo attempts to solve the mystery that is their purpose in life. The conversations between them when they are alone on stage are smart and fun, and brought to life with charm and tenacity by Larson and Vammer. The chemistry between the two actresses really helped me to settle into the rhythm of their relationship, and it was a delight to see them have fun with the games being played.
The aesthetic of the show is also very interesting. Performing atop a stage within the stage of the Gene Frankel Theatre (set design by Mitchell Ost), the company sets the scene for the highly theatrical events of the play, and gives the actors full license to engage with the stylized nature of the piece (not to mention, it makes room for a few more seats in the house!). Most characters are defined by single costume pieces draped about the versatile cast, and props are often simple stand-ins for what they represent on stage, contributing further to the theatricality and the whimsy of the play.
This production was a joy to attend. The company really plays with the text, and the pleasure of that freedom is visible in their performance. The struggles of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are brought to the audience with sincerity and a kind of naive desperation that kept me rooting for them, despite my prior knowledge of their story. Their concerns about death and the truth of reality are still milling about in my brain as I wonder how many times I would have to see a coin land on heads before I stopped believing it was happening. I recommend this production to any appreciators of Shakespeare and syllogisms, and/or anyone looking to have a good laugh.
(Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead plays at the Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street, through November 21, 2015. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 1:30. Tickets are $20 at the door, or $10 for students. For more info, or to buy tickets online, visit theonomatopoeiatheatrecompany.com.)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is written by Tom Stoppard and directed by Thomas R. Gordon. It is produced by Onomatopoeia Theatre Company. Prop design is by Dana Robbins. Set design is by Mitch Ost. Lighting design is by Michael Petre-Zumbrun. Costume design is by Al Malonga.
The cast is Miranda Jean Larson, Jocelyn Vammer, Thomas R. Gordon, Gregory Pike, Jonathan West, Tracilyn Jones, David Meyers, and Morgane.