Entries in Hamlet (2)


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:  Award Winning Theatre at Stellar APT

How fitting in the year 2013, when British playwright Tom Stoppard won England’s PEN Pinter Award, only one of many he has garnered, that American Players Theatre stages a Stoppard play in the Up the Hlll Theatre authored when he was 29 years old. The one produced in 1967 that originally jettisoned the playwright to this elite literary status: “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.”

Stoppard also follows in the footsteps of Harold Pinter, the Nobel Prize Winner in Literature the award is named after, because both playwrights appeal to the Theatre of the Absurd. Where the dramatic action transforms seemingly banal conversation and language into enigmatic contemplation often posing little or no possibility of certainty or truth.

Director James Bohnen delivers a brilliant production for Stoppard’s multi-award winning, existential play, so dependent on the acting talents of the three main characters. This season perfectly cast with Ryan Imhoff as Rosencrantz, Steve Haggard as Guildenstern, and John Pribyl as the Player. Haggard and Imhoff replay a medieval version of Laurel and Hardy, trapped from the anterooms of action in William Shakespeare’s Danish castle, Elsinore, for a decidedly different look at Hamlet. Where the two friends muse on why they were called to ease the madness of the prince, discover the reason for the source of Hamlet’s distress.

Comic timing, dramatic silences, preganant pauses and facial expressions, plus a deep chemistry to display the mark of true friendship between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, inhabit the performances of Imhoff and Haggard. Who constantly confuse their own names of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, interchangeable, because of being so inconsequential to Hamlet’s situation and in Stoppard’s absurd time frame, life as the audience lives day to day.

What difference do these childhood cohorts, their roles, make in this play or the other tragedy, Hamlet? As Rosencrantz admits, “I can’t think of anything original, I’m only good in support.”  They both question their signifigance in this situation and the greateer meaning to their existence. Later in the same act, Guildenstern replies while they are pondering their future: “Death is not romantic…only an absence of presence.”

In the other main role, Pribyl leads his band of itinerant actors with seductive charm and assured leadership. His character’s theatrical art and words only matter when he and his band of merry men have an audience. Similar to Stoppard, whose play only resonates when seen before an audience and APT, who can only play to yet another audience sitting directly in front of them. In this production, APT actors and Up the Hill Theatre audiences often interact to emphasize this truth.

Using Andrew Boyce/Takeshi Kata’s exact set from APT’s Hamlet to striking effect, especially when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern travel to England on a boat and a huge canvas covers the stage resembling a sail, the APT actors from Hamlet reprise their roles, which elevates the absurdity and authenticity even further. Holly Payne’s sumptuous costumes decorated in fur and gilt, constructed in autumnal colors, ochre, parchment, sienna and umber, echo Guildenstern who explains,  “Autumnal not being seasonal” and foreshadows a finite end, when he says, “Autumnal is the brownness at the edges of the day.”

“What actors do best is death…and art must mirror life, “ the Player also confesses. And so, how do human do death. Actors mirror what is fated to occur in life, and so the Player explains how many ways there are to "do death." Or as he adds, “Life is a gamble at terrible odds. If you knew, you wouldn’t take it.”

These words illustrate how Stoppard’s classic tragicomedy relies heavily on the poetic ambiguity of language and these humorous one-liners, poignantly funny and profoundly contemporary, for a rich evening of theatre. His third act opens when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sit in darkness, trying to decipher where they are going and their uncertain future on that boat at sea taking Hamlet to England. Where Spring Green’s clear night sky filled with bright stars, illuminating the theater and the action on stage simultaneously, merging fantasy and reality seamlessly. A perfect example of Stoppard’s ingenious play and APT’s amazing ability to conjure the timeless qualities of why art and life matter in their stellar production “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.”

American Players Theatre presents the award winning Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ard Dead at the Up the Hill Theatre throughout the 2013 season. For information on performance times and ticket information, please call 608.588.2361 or click the link to the left.   by Peggy Sue Dunigan







Play in the Woods at APT’s Two Gentlemen of Verona

“In the Woods” can be that place where during William Shakespeare’s stories characters often discover their very personal transformations. In the woods and Up the Hill, American Players Theatre presents another version of characters that find themselves living in the woods during tough times in Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. An opportunity to view this early play from the master’s dramatic legacy produced far less often than many others.

Shakespeare’s tale recounts the constancy of friendship and love as these best friends, two young gentlemen, Proteus and Valentine, seek their fortunes in Italy. Proteus first falls in love with the dark haired Julia, pledging his faith with a gold ring. Then the other gentleman Valentine swears his heart to the fairer Sylvia, already betrothed to a wealthy friend of her father the Duke of Milan. That is, until Proteus visits Valentine, meets Sylvia, and then struggles with the value of friendship, faithfulness, and his own wanton inclinations. 

In Two Gentlemen, the servants of Proteus and Valentine, Speed and Launce, provide some great laughs, narrate the story and give the audience clues to their masters’ ensuing actions. Will Mobley’s Speed and Steve Haggard’s Launce exude Shakespeare’s ability for bawdy, clever rhyme while mocking the constancy of human friendship. Launce would sacrifice more for his canine friend, Crab, a real life German Shepherd named Tim, than his human master. Hence, a dog might actually be man’s best friend, for these animals indeed prove loyal in the best sense. 

Director Tim Ocel appears to give Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen a modern edge, with Marcus Truschinski playing Proteus and Travis A. Knight, Valentine. This seems to strip some of the lyricism from Shakespeare’s lines, a lyricism more necessary in this earlier play where Shakespeare might be developing as a young playwright.  On stage APT further strips down Shakespeare’s script with little embellishment in scenery, a pier like, wooden scaffolding for the set, a more modern, bare bones interpretation by Scenic Designer Nathan Stuber.

Opposite the male leads, Shakespeare begins to place his focus on strong women, the petite Susan Shunk in the role of the forlorn Julia, and in her maid Lucetta, a great cameo performance by Kelsey Brennan. The debuting Abbey Siegworth plays the fiery Silvia. This fair-haired beauty committed to her love for Valentine in spite of her father’s intended wishes, or whatever Proteus attempts to whisper in her ears.

While all four leads can command a stage, on this humid night there might have been more romantic heat between the two couples. More affection was perceived between Proteus and Valentine than for either of their female loves, perhaps something that will develop completely over the summer season.

In a fateful twist, Shakespeare’s poetry in Two Gentlemen provides the audience with the famous line “Love is blind " to poignantly contrast with their Touchstone Theatre production, Molly Sweeney, where actually “seeing” proves to be less valuable in discerning matters of the heart. Lovers wish to be in the darkness, oblivious to their partner’s shortcomings, where friends can often see truths. This inherent loyalty to friendship and love dominate the themes in Two Gentlemen.

Proteus proves himself false to Julia and Valentine, yet he makes amends, and then discovers forgiveness offered from Valentine, who knew Proteus was blind to the truth. Walking down the hill through the woods, one heard after the performance, “How unrealistic the ending was, for Valentine to forgive Proteus.” In the woods is where all the final action in this play unfolds, and one might consider that women were only property in Shakespeare’s era, when Proteus’s crime might be seen as less repulsive than today. Still, Ocel used more force in his seemingly contemporary interpretation of that scene than usually noted. Although, Shakespeare consistently inhabits his women with assurance and confidence to rival the male ego, as he did here.

Yet, without Shakespeare adding the redemptive “one feast, one house, one mutual happiness,” the forgiveness Valentine offers to his dear friend Proteus at the play's conclusion, despite Valentine being betrayed, the audience would be left with destruction. Only forgiveness restores the love of Valentine and Silvia, given also by and to the Duke of Milan, and then from Julia for Proteus.

While each of APT’s plays can be singularly dynamic entertainment for the evening, considering this fascinating trio, the two Shakespeare plays in contrast to Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeney, invites compelling discussion. There was spare forgiveness, given too late, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, while APT’s Molly Sweeney powerfully uncovers what “blind” and “seeing” can actually mean. Encounter a personal transformation while playing in the APT woods this summer, all the while enjoying every minute of the company’s entertaining and intellectually fascinating theater season.  

American Players Theatre presents William Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona through their summer season in repertoire with Shakespeare's Hamlet and Brain Friel's Molly Sweeney, along with two other fascinating plays. To "play in the woods" with APT, for further information on schedules, special events or tickets please call   608.588.2361 or click the APT link to the left.                         by Peggy Sue Dunigan