Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead—Zoomtopia—SE Portland

Method in their Madness

Anon It Moves and String House Theatre present this dark comedy by Tom Stoppard at Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St.  It is directed by Emily Gregory and plays through August 23rd in repertory with Hamlet.  For more information, go to their site at www.anonitmoves.org

This was made into a rather good film starring Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Richard Dreyfess.  It follows two minor characters of Hamlet and lets us see the world through the eyes of the “little people” of a set period and time.  It is a microcosm of our larger universe where, as hypothesized here, everyone has their place and plays their part until the end.  But what if two entities question that state of being and attempt to rebel?  What if they choose not to play their parts and go a different direction entirely?

Since they are to die (as the Hamlet plot suggests) or, perhaps, are already dead, and simply replaying their actions that lead to it until they accept that fact.  R&G are onstage the entire play and their only contact with any sort of reality, are the Players/Actors from the story.  Rosencrantz (Joel Patrick Durham), definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer and Guildenstern (Caitlin Fisher-Draeger), the brighter of the two, are left to ponder their existence when not actively engaged in the Hamlet story.  They have little or no memories of past history or relationships, seemingly tied together because their deaths are.

Then they meet the Players (Alwynn Accuardi, Gretchen Vietmeir, Murri Lazaroff-Babin and Kristen Lang) and their leader (Paul Susi) in their alternate universe.  R&G seem to think that death is not unlike a stage death of one of the actors.  That it is done for dramatic effect, then they rise again and go about their normal lives.  How one comes about their end is fated and one should simply accept it.  But R&G seem to feel that there should be an element of suspense, of probability, of chance, in living life.  That they should have choices and if one takes another path, results will be different.

The actors, of course, have this option, as they can play material already written down, or improvise and outcomes will be different.  “Actors are the opposite of people,” as the Player Leader says.  Actors play their parts in stories set down for them.  Ordinary people, it seems, haven’t caught onto this concept yet.  What comes after death, if anything, is never fully explored, but it seems that acceptance of one’s death is the key, before one can move on.  R&G seem caught up in this rotating pattern, never coming to grips with the reality of their situation.

Stoppard’s play intersperses with Shakespeare’s story at times and the same cast is used for both plays.  One seeming goof is that in this company’s version of Hamlet, The title character is referred to as Lady Hamlet, because she is played by a female actor, and in Stoppard’s take, they refer to the character as he.  The reason being is that Stoppard’s play is copywritten, so not able to change the text, and the Bard’s is not.

As expounded by the end, was there a time when they could have made different choices and, thus, their outcomes would have been different.  That question hangs in the air…no ready answer in sight.  And, as the darkness settles over them, will there be a new dawn, or will they again repeat their actions until they get it right, like in Groundhog Day?

This type of existentialism has been examined in plays before by many other authors including Tennessee Williams’ Out Cry, Jean Cocteau’s The Infernal Machine, Pirandello’s, Six Characters in Search of an Author, et. al.  Gregory keeps the play moving at a rapid pace and the crucial element, timing, is spot on.  It is recommended to see both plays in order to see how they connect.

Both Durham and Fisher-Drager (co-Artistic Director of Anon…) are super.  The lines are very difficult to learn (as I can attest to, having played Rosencrantz myself in a production back East) as these two characters have about 75% of the line load and many of the lines appear not to make sense.  But both of these actors are up to the challenge and hold your interest throughout.

The same can be said for Susi and his troupe of players.  He has the power to be a convincing classical actor and yet can be conversational when needed.  He is very effective.  And, his group of players, all have distinctive personalities, which adds to the dark humor of the presentation.  Again, as my review of Hamlet indicated, Lang, in a small role, is very watchable.  She has an intense focus of her character and the story which highlights her talent.  I look to see her in larger roles in the future.

I recommend this play but would be good to bring a cushion, as the metal chairs get a little uncomfortable after two plus hours of sitting.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.  T

To read my review of their Hamlet, see below: