Author: Beki Pineda

BOULDER MAGAZINE: Review: “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead”

As Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Sean Scrutchins and Michael Bouchard make a truly compatible duo, playing both against and with each other. 

Several years ago while attending the Telluride Film Festival, I had the unusual experience of seeing the film SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, starring Willem Defoe and John Malkovich. It was about the making of the first horror film—NOSFERATU—in 1922. It gave us a look at the bizarre behind-the-scenes incidents that happened because an actual vampire had been hired to play the lead. Early the next morning, I attended a screening of NOSFERATU itself. Seeing them in that order so close together created an unprecedented insight into the whole phenomenon.

I had the same experience recently at the Shakes by visiting ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN on opening night and revisiting HAMLET the next afternoon. I was obviously not alone in that experience, based on the spontaneous laughter that erupted from the audience when R&G appeared on stage for the first time in HAMLET. My fellow playgoers were remembering the boys’ confusion and dismay from the night before. We had had an insight into the events that propelled them to Elsinore and couldn’t help but laugh.

That was only one of the laughable moments gleaned from this sophisticated and gleeful production. Sean Scrutchins and Michael Bouchard make a truly compatible duo playing both against and with each other. They flip coins and ponder why they have been summoned to Elsinore but have only confusion as an answer. By the end of Act I, they have had their first meeting with Hamlet but are no less confounded than at the beginning of the play.

They follow to the letter the simple requests given them by the King and Gertrude: to accompany Hamlet to England and deliver a letter to the English King. They can’t understand why suddenly everyone seems against them and everything goes so terribly wrong. Why, for example, when they ask 27 questions in one speech, do they get only three answers back? The actors from HAMLET are on board to play out the scenes in which R&G are characters and contribute to their personal story as well.  

The script is sweetly reminiscent of Alan Ayckbourn’s HOUSE and GARDEN, a play that takes place on two stages simultaneously with the same cast. As one drama is going on in the house, the same actors are depicting a different situation in the garden. R&G observe that they “do on stage the stuff that others do off stage.” As they observe the story of Hamlet being acted out on the stage behind them, they become aware that “every exit is an entrance somewhere else.” Whether you see the current production of HAMLET or not, you’ll enjoy following the antics of two of classic Shakespeare’s most easily forgotten characters. 

The set is cleverly designed to service both productions by turning pieces around, so we see the backs of some of the flats used in the set of HAMLET. The trees so solidly planted for Hamlet are left to hang unused for the set of R&G. Stephen Jones designed the sets and lights to work for both productions, and Hugh Hanson made costumes that are also compatible for both shows.

WOW factor: 9