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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Review

Courtesy of COS Theatre Arts

Courtesy of COS Theatre Arts

Gedahn Kassaz

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Everyone in the COS auditorium took their seats on the flat stage, conventionally exclusive to the actors they paid to see. This new, peculiar seating arrangement the audience found themselves in suggested a more intimate and participatory experience they probably weren’t familiar with. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, originally conceived by playwright Tom Stoppard, and directed by COS’ James McDonnell, not only delivered that sense of intimacy, but also unleashed the absurd and hilarious nature of the play in all of it’s mastery; with performances that both impressed and harmonized audience interaction, complex dialogue, and an intricate plot.

*No Spoilers

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead finds—fittingly—Rosencrantz and Guildensternplayed by Kami Hinds and Schyler Mayo—wandering through an arid forest, of which they forget why they’re traversing in the first place. They encounter a wagon full of actors known as the Tragedians, along with their director, simply referred to as ‘The Player. From there, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern fall from location to location, eventually encountering their friend Hamlet, who has gone mad for unknown reasons. The oddity of these encounters supply most of the storytelling as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern become confused, questioning the nature of their existence, conventional wisdom, their livelihoods, and even, their own names.

The intricate plot is as strange and uncontained to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern than it is to the audience, hence the intimate stage set-up that guides the audience with the protagonists of this story. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern navigate and roam the stage in a nonchalant yet focused manner, as the actors maintain their character while measuring when and how to distance themselves and interact with the audience. Never will the two leave your sight, and their whimsical and constructive banter is the string that joyfully weaves each scene together.

The most obvious creative decision the play took, to those familiar with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead or Hamlet, is that both protagonists are were played by two women. In spite of this difference, the performances were wonderfully pulled off and equally as intriguing. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern‘s chemistry was vividly present, which is paramount if the audience is going to endure (or in this case, enjoy) the lengthy conversations the two constantly have.

The Player, played by Brett Clevenger, was inserted in perfect intervals, providing comic relief and moments to decompress from the rather prevalent philosophical dialogue. Performances across the board were exceptional, including appropriate lighting and music. The show lasts for about two and a half hours, but never did it feel like it overstayed its welcome.

The costumes were incredibly accurate to the era as well as the props being used; but what felt most real in the play, the means by which the audience was able to experience and comprehend what was happening, was the stage itself. A square sector with eyes peering in from three sides. This tight arena is what makes the experience memorable. The actors’ raw voices bouncing off the walls, the clashing of swords, falling bodies and angered footsteps; everything you hear and feel vibrating isn’t amplified. The provides one of the most immersive plays COS has developed.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead might appear to have a daunting plot. Audience members might not want to do their homework and enjoy Hamlet ahead of time. The thoughtfully considered dialogue may scare off some of the more casual theatre goers; but don’t let the intricacy frighten you. This is a play that respects your intelligence and still serves some enjoyment through experience and participation if you find yourself lost on the absurdity.

Score: A

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Review