Tom Stoppard’s plays are notoriously verbose, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is no exception. “The play is definitely about words, words, words,” director Michael Kimm says. “But under the words are three really interesting and complex characters. I just wish I’d had more time to shape that part of the actors’ work.”
The plot follows two minor characters of Shakespeare’s Hamlet who go to the Danish court to spy. Most of the play takes place in an intentionally vague space in which the characters are left to question their lives and wait for the next visitor. The protagonists engage in philosophical debate and games to pass the time. Sean Critchfield’s Rosencrantz skillfully carries the comedic interaction, while Adam Schaefer’s Guildenstern stews in his own melancholy. Thomas Chrastka’s Player, the leader of a band of actors, is joyfully seedy.
The play is visually rich, with sumptuous costumes, a mesmerizing set in-the-round and subtle lighting design. Apart from a disorienting sound cue and Schaefer’s tendency to swallow his words, it’s entertaining, thought-provoking and touching. The extended wordplay is not for everyone, but Stoppard fans won’t be disappointed.
Word of warning: Those unfamiliar with Hamlet will be lost.