Entries in Harold Pinter (1)

Tuesday
Aug132013

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