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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Is Worth the Trek

By Suzy Evans in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 22, 2009 4:40PM

2009_10_R&G_Review.jpg “Every exit is an entrance somewhere else,” Tom Stoppard writes in his Tony-award winning Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, currently playing in an excellent production at Writers’ Theatre. When the actors leave the stage where do they go? For Stoppard, the characters in Hamlet leave Shakespeare’s world and enter Stoppard's twisted universe of philosophical contemplation that left our heads spinning, in a good way.

This rhetoric-packed play poses existential questions like, what is the meaning of life? And where are we all going if only for death? Really uplifting stuff. However, it is a comedy, and we were definitely laughing while thinking big thoughts. Stoppard constructs every line perfectly in a way that simultaneously confuses and informs. You’ll find yourself wondering if art imitates life and if eternity is a threat or a gift.

Stoppard tells the Hamlet story - Prince of Denmark’s throne usurped by conniving uncle who kills Hamlet’s father, his uncle, and shacks up with his wife - through the eyes of Hamlet’s classmates, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The two don’t have much face time in Shakespeare’s version, but they must have a story, everyone does, and Stoppard chooses to tell it. The play weaves in Shakespeare’s play, which sounds like it would be confusing. However, Stoppard links the stories perfectly, and Writers’ production only accentuates Stoppard’s expertly crafted script.

Director Michael Halberstam’s staging and Collette Pollard’s simple scene design makes it work perfectly. The stage backdrop is the seats of another theater, reflecting the ones you find yourself sitting in. So when the actors face upstage, with subtle and effective stage lights illuminating from behind, they are in Hamlet. And when they face us, they are both offstage and in R&G. This explanation might not make sense, but trust us, the exact lighting cues and perfectly choreographed blocking makes it easy to comprehend. (Look at the picture with this post for a better idea.)

As Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (you’ll never know exactly who is who unless you read the program), Sean Fortunato and Timothy Edward Kane play off each other with ease. The characters remind us of Pinky and the Brain, and anything that can fuel our love for the 90’s makes us happy. Sean Fortunato’s Rosencrantz, the seemingly dumb one whose thoughts end up much deeper in the end, is more appealing than Kane’s Guildenstern, though we fear that’s the nature of the characters, not the actors. They remained in character through the end of the curtain call, because if death is the only finale, why take a bow?

Something worth noting is the performance is in Glencoe which, if you’re like us, means a foray on the Metra (and waiting quite a long time in the cold for the train post-performance.) But it’s worth the trek and the cold. The play will give you plenty to think about long after your train ride is done.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at Writers’ Theatre (325 Tudor Court, Glencoe) runs through December 6.