Nomadic Theater’s production of Tom Stoppard’s 1966 play “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” is the perfect opportunity to exercise your mind in a new way after weeks of exams and papers. This absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy focuses on the roles of two minor characters in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who have now taken a lead role in the adaptation of one of the Bard’s classic tales. Although the play is an absurdist comedy, the titular characters often encounter deep philosophical truths through their seemingly inane conversations. The plot is broken up by brief segments featuring appearances of major characters from “Hamlet” that bring familiarity to this bold, innovative play. All in all, “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” answers the questions about existentialism and free will versus determinism in the improvisation of a classic story.
“Absurdist theater, a part of Stoppard’s foundation, establishes that our existence is pure madness, our attempts to communicate are futile and that our universe is chaotic, impersonal and utterly overwhelming,” director Kathleen Joyce (COL ’15) said. “Post-absurdism takes these admittedly frightening conclusions as its starting point and asks for what’s next.”
The show jumps right into the thick of it, as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, played by played by Sean Craig (COL ’16) and Taylor Rasmussen (COL ’16) respectively, challenge the existential nature of their lives.
“In this show, even probability is abandoned. We are in a world that is not subject to natural forces,” producer Conor Ross (COL ’16) said.
The actors were really pushed to step up to the challenge of deciphering truth and reality inStoppard’s dialogue.
“There’s no way for the characters in the show to know what’s actually going on or what their situation truly is. Which moments are moments of truth? Which are ironic or sarcastic? Are there any characters at all who actually know what’s going on, and if there are, then what’s their motivation?” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen’s commitment to the role leads to very real, physical ramifications. The extensivedialogues and long periods of time spent in character made it hard for Rasmussen to pause and be herself.
“There are times when Kathleen told Sean and I to step out of being Rosencrantz and Guildensternand just be Sean and Taylor for a little and address the audience that way. It feels raw,” Rasmussen said.
Although one might assume the absurdist nature of this play might make it difficult to grasp, Ross still finds “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” very relatable.
“It is important for the audience to embrace the strange nature of the world, even though it may seem ridiculous at first. There is a lot of correlation with issues that people face as college students that feel like the world is against them and they have no place to go,” said Ross
The play is broken up by the entrances of Hamlet and his royal court, as well as the Tragedians. The Tragedians, a troupe of perverted actors led by the Player, portrayed by Grayson Ullman (COL ’16), add a refreshing dose of vulgarity at moments when the play reaches a high level of intellectual questioning. Dramaturge Emily Lett (COL ’17) fine-tuned the role of the Tragedians to bring a unique twist to this rendition.
“We did very much to change the Tragedians. Other examples of tragedians are not as vulgar as we made them because they are more light-hearted in that the characters are painted as clowns. Our Tragedians are more shocking and turn to madness,” Lett said.
From the perspective of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the behavior of Hamlet, played by AnthonyBuonomo (COL ’16), is largely nonsensical and absurd.
“It’s a completely different role to Hamlet in Shakespeare’s version. I never realized how insane and unnecessary some of his actions are in Shakespeare’s version. This is something I only thought about when looking at the character from such a different perspective,” said Buonomo.
The humor of the play extends beyond merely Hamlet’s role. Many of the characters are integral in drawing out laughs from the audience.
“The moments where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern outright acknowledge that they’re in a play are loads of fun. It adds to the hilarity,” said Rasmussen
It is easy to get sucked in by the heavy, overbearing questions dealt to the audience by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but that should not distract anyone from enjoying the other elements of the show.
“I want the audience to recognize the heavy, existential nature of the show for what it is because it’s integral. But I don’t want it to stop the audience from laughing at the comedic parts, or from sympathizing with the two characters,” Rasmussen said. “This is a complex show with a lot of levels, and I want the audience to experience all of them.”
“Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” runs from Oct. 24 to Oct. 26 at 8 p.m., Oct. 27 at 2 p.m. and from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 for students and $12 for general admission.
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