Writers’ Theatre – Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead

Back for the new season at Writers’ Theatre and the first show was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which I really dig. This play was my second experience with the alternate point of view genre (Grendel was the first – both in AP English). I remember it because my nerd friends started playing The Question Game for awhile. That was right around the time that Kris’ parents started doing missionary work in Africa and we all discovered Jello shots, but never mind that.

Where Grendel and Wicked are from the point of view of the villain, and Rhett Butler’s People and a whole slew of Pride and Prejudice books are from the point of view of the romantic lead, this took two characters from Hamlet that were rather throwaway and made them the focus of a story. (If you want the point of view of the bad guy in Hamlet, try John Updike’s Gertrude & Claudius. Messed with my head.)

R&G were always kinda dumb, so the piece is part comedy. It is also part philosophy. The guy behind me at the show, (in between blowing his nose just a bit too close to my hair) suggested that it was a “purgatory piece” – where the characters are already dead and reflecting on their choices.

I’m pretty sure that was one of the theories going around about Lost.

I have seen several different versions of Hamlet, and while my mother may faint to hear me forsake Olivier, I must declare that I live and die by the Branagh version. Which means that the rather..um..flamboyant characters of The Players messed me up. Because I was somehow looking for Charleton Heston. It took me about 2.4 seconds to get over that and I loved them.

So the set design was a stage. And the backdrop was a mural of theatre seats. When the “Hamlet action” was going on, the actors all faced the other way. I’m not sure whether that is standard technique for the piece, or Michael Halberstam came up with it himself, but it was awesome. Although, now that I am writing it, it sounds like they are trying to coach the audience on what is the canon and what isn’t. There was actually a flyer in the program that had a summary of the original Shakespeare.

The part is so small, but I must say: if I were going to make a Top Ten List of the most annoying characters in all of literature, Polonius would totally be there. (As would Mrs. Bennet. Oh, and Sue Ellen O’Hara. I am going to have to write a full post on that concept.) And the actor that played Polonius was the most annoying Polonius he could possibly be. Which I guess is a good thing.

The actors that played the leads (Writer’s Theatre Fave Sean Fortunato and New Guy Timothy Edward Kane) were really good. The Tribune critic thought that Kane was too broody as Guildenstern, but I thought it added some weight to the Free Will debate that I hadn’t considered before. Fortunato was goofier; kind of child-like. I guess that was the better foil.

Of course, the big license the play takes is in suggesting that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were aware that they were to be executed and stumbled into their fate with their eyes open. My 18 year old self did not buy this idea. In this show, they somehow pull it off. Or maybe it is just my matured suspension of disbelief. Or the purgatory thing.

Whatever. This show rocked.

2 Comments on “Writers’ Theatre – Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead

  1. There is another alt-Hamlet called "Fortinbras". Actually, it takes place after everybody has been murdered in Hamlet but is played for laughs in the same way that R & G are Dead was, with a ghost Hamlet haunting Denmark via a television set in the castle. I can't remember if it was good or not so I guess it wasn't…utter_scoundrel

  2. Hm. I was thinking that if a telelvision was involved in (even alternative) Shakespeare, it couldn't be good. But the Baz version of Romeo & Juliet did not suck.

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