"Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where's it going to end?"
Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead premiered on Broadway in 1968. While the bantering dialogue on subjects of life, death, communication, and reality between the principal characters seems clearly influenced by Samuel Beckett's 1953 play En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot), the Folger Shakespeare Library's production (seen May 17, 2015) under the direction of Aaron Posner brims with current day spirit in such lines as "Fire! I'm demonstrating the misuse of free speech" and in the rapidly delivered poetic chatter that seems much like rap.
The Dresser also adds that Stoppard's play, written in London beginning in 1964 when he was only 29 years old, reminds her of Leslie Bricuisse and Anthony Newly's 1964 musical The Roar of Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd. In both theatrical works, games are played that emphasize the role of chance and how the underdog can never win because a higher power has control.
Stoppard's story line spins off from Shakespeare's Hamlet. The tragedy of the Danish prince is re-visioned through the perspective of Hamlet's friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who are summoned to spy on Hamlet by the murderous new king Claudius, brother of Hamlet's father and usurper of the young Hamlet's right to his father's throne. Posner divides the action between what looks to be an attic in Act I and a ship in Act II. Both sets have perches which suggest precarious thrones that either Rosencrantz or Guildenstern climb up to.
Helen Q. Huang's costume designs are remarkable in the way that they identify which players belong together. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wear winged sweaters that zip diagonally up the front and include a hood. When Adam Wesley Brown as Guildenstern appears on stage enclosed in his sweater with hood up, the Dresser could not help but associate both characters with the teenage boys that move around the streets of America today. Hamlet (Biko Eisen-Martin), Ophelia (Brynn Tucker), Gertrude (Kimberly Schraf), and Claudius (Craig Wallace) wear a mix of gauzy and opaque materials where the gauze suggests exposure and that they are not long for this world. The tragedians led by Ian Merrill Peakes wear clunky costumes with accessories that call attention to themselves as one would expect for actors. For example, Peakes wears a codpiece prominently under his belt buckle.
Despite identity confusion between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (sometimes even they no longer know who is who), Romell Witherspoon as Rosencrantz and Adam Wesley Brown as Guildenstern create two easily distinguishable characters with their own ways of moving and responding. As actors, each brought his character to life with appealing inflection.
Artifice is the landscape of an actor's world and Ian Merrill Peakes as the lead Tragedian demonstrated from the first moment he appeared on stage to tell the audience to turn off our cell phones that he was a master of the art of posturing. Likewise Biko Eisen-Martin as Hamlet is the essence of crazy. Actually, his body language and strange hairstyle (shaved at the lower half and long stand-up bushy hair on top of his head) made the Dresser equate this character with Jerry Seinfeld's wild friend Kramer and that in turn made the Dresser see Guildenstern as Jerry Seinfeld and Rosencrantz as Jerry's friend George Costanza. The production, running May 12 to June 21, provokes not only belly laughs but also haunting thoughts about the human condition.
Jamison Crabtree's poem "to prevent pain," seems to echo Hamlet and his relationship with Ophelia. Hamlet causes Ophelia great pain, so great that she commits suicide, but he seems inured to it.
TO PREVENT PAIN
Cause pain. Be first, be fast. Oh yes--at last a way to strip the desperate
from the landscape; a way to put yourself back into it. To kiss me
would be cruel.
So kiss me and wake to the mice that startle the brush; to someone
who kneels down to touch your lips with a finger; then with their own
But there were neither hips nor skin, not even your own--there was
a tree and the tree and the night were tressed, all knotted and gnarled
Tonight, the forest is empty of its little prey; they dine at the feet of
the cities, the hunters feather the trees. There are no fingertips to slender
the constellations from the branches. No callused sky.
And so you want to die but if you want to die, you won't. But you will
you will you will calls out the owl. Calls out the owl to the tiny wild.
rel[am]ent Copyright © 2015 Jamison Crabtree
Photos: Teresa Wood