Author: Adam Goldstein

DAILY CAMERA: ‘Rosencrantz’ offers insights into timeless tragedy

“Rosencrantz” leads Michael Bouchard and Sean Scrutchins combine the philosophical angst of “Waiting for Godot” with the comic timing of Abbot and Costello.

“Hamlet” is a dizzying, dreary affair.

William Shakespeare’s signature tragedy is a cornerstone of Western literature, an unparalleled touchstone of human creativity and artistic achievement. It’s also morose, frenetic, unsettling and downright confusing, a fact that isn’t lost on the titular characters in Tom Stoppard’s 1966 tragicomedy “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.”

The pair of satellite players from the Bard’s 1603 magnum opus are the featured protagonists in Stoppard’s piece, which is currently running as the lone, non-canonical entry in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival‘s 2017 season. Directed by CSF producing artistic director Tim Orr, the show features the same cast, crew and basic stage design as the CSF’s concurrent production of “Hamlet.” That’s no accident. This show is meant as a companion piece to the tale of Denmark’s unhinged prince, and Orr and the cast realize that function to a delightful and incisive degree.

“Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” imagines the extended and expanded exploits of Hamlet’s former schoolmates during the events portrayed in Shakespeare’s signature tragedy. Here, the two pawns in Hamlet’s ultimate downfall are also featured witnesses to the course of the action itself. Like the audience, they’re often left to merely watch and react from the wings as the Prince of Denmark descends into madness and sets about his gruesome course of revenge. Even as the pair play their own doomed roles in the story, they watch the plot unfold with existentialist angst, nervous wisecracks and consistent confusion.

It’s meta-theater at its best, a drama that winks at the audience and acknowledges, in no subtle manner, its status as a drama. Stoppard uses two minor characters from “Hamlet” as vehicles for a broader brand of commentary, humor and insight about the deeper themes of the play and the larger meaning of human existence itself. The dynamic is difficult, heady and surreal, but the CSF captures the spirit of the piece with incisiveness energy.

Just as “Hamlet” riffs off its status as a work of theater with its “play within a play,” Stoppard’s piece draws on its theatrical structure as a means of conveying messages, themes and humor. The CSF production handles this dynamic with deftness, eliciting constant laughs while posing a bevy of questions about life’s most puzzling and profound aspects.

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