“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” a 1966 comedic play by Tom Stoppard, was enacted in Tyler Hall by the Acting Company on Thursday, Feb. 27. Akin to 2004’s “Lion King 1 ½,” which follows the misadventures and perspective lives of Timon and Pumbaa, this play does the same with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Unfortunately, the humor quickly runs dry as the characters attempt to stretch single jokes out for entire scenes.
To understand much of the play, a viewer would have to know the story of “Hamlet,” for there are identical scenes in both, but that is not where the main problem lies. “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” has little plot. Although the focus of the play is the comedic elements, their antics grow tiresome.
The opening scene is a precursor for the rest of the play. For at least five minutes, both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern continually flip coins and discuss the phenomenon that it always ends up on heads. Granted, this is a necessary scene because it foreshadows later events in the story, but it is one that could have been reduced to half as long.
These kinds of scenes continue throughout the play in between the two main plot points where they are charged by King Claudius to discover what ails Hamlet, and afterward to sail with Hamlet to England. This is demonstrated when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to figure out which direction they need to go based on the sun, when they play a game where they can only ask each other questions, and when they talk about death intermixed with crude bar jokes. These situations are humorous, like most in the play, but they drag on and lose flavor rapidly.
The play was not without its highlights, however. The actors, especially Grant Fletcher Prewitt as Rosencrantz and Ian Gould as Guildenstern, proved remarkable immersion through speech and gestures. There was never disbelief that the actors were their respective characters. Moreover, there is a scene between Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in which a conversation, which is in the play “Hamlet,” goes “fast-forward.” With audio of a quick, unintelligible, squeaky voice, the three characters zoom through the scene at an impressive, rigid pace as one would see when fast-forwarding a video. It was funny and didn’t drag on. It’s unfortunate that the entire play was not done in that manner.
The actors, although incredible, were not able to enact this play in an interesting light. If the seemingly never-ending jokes were cut in half, the play would have been much more tolerable. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern joke when they are on the boat to England that there was a lack of tension in their lives, which has grown stagnant. Unfortunately, bringing up the play’s problems in a comedic manner doesn’t make it any funnier.