As literary characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have had quite a life. They first appeared in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” as the Danish prince’s ill-fated friends-turn-spies. English satirist W. S. Gilbert resurrected them in 1874 stage parody titled “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, A Tragic Episode, in Three Tabloids.”
In 1966, Czech-born British playwright, Tom Stoppard, insured their immortality with “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” The Broadway production earned multiple awards, including four Tonys. The script was adapted for radio and even made its way into high school literature curriculum across America. In 1990, Stoppard directed acclaimed stage and screen actors Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Richard Dreyfuss in a film adaptation by the same title. Now, the theater department of Anne Arundel Community College has made it their own!
While the entire cast delivers a polished performance, Walker as Guildenstern and Duque as The Player distinguish themselves as rising stars.
Under the direction of Madeline Austin, the play opens with Rosencrantz (Eliza Geib) and Guildenstern (Cameron Walker) on a hapless journey. They don’t seem to remember the origins or purpose of their travels. They pass the time flipping coins, betting on the outcome, and arguing about the laws of probability. They are two distinct personalities. Guildenstern is serious and more intellectual and Rosencrantz more, ahem, uncomplicated. Yet, they are called by and answer to each other’s names throughout the play.
As they journey, they meet a band of traveling tragedians led by The Player (Gabriel D. Duque). The hodge-podge troupe specializes in violent tragedies. They witness key scenes from the Danish Court, including “mad” Hamlet’s (Jackson Bondurant) rejection of sweet Ophelia (Alice Resare) and their own commission from the newly crowned King Claudius (Nathan Garcia) and Queen Gertrude (Shannon McElwee).
Eventually, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find themselves on a ship sailing for England. The tragedians and Hamlet are also on board. The title characters discover the letter they are to deliver to the English king calls for Hamlet’s execution. True to the Shakespearean plot, Hamlet switches the King’s letter for one of his own, demanding that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern be put to death. Pirates attack. Hamlet escapes. The audience is returned to the final scene of Hamlet, where the English Ambassador (Mycheal Lewis) announces to the bloodied Danish Court that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.
While the entire cast delivers a polished performance, Walker as Guildenstern and Duque as The Player distinguish themselves as rising stars. The scenes shared by these two actors are worthy of a standing ovation. Their timing is brilliant. Their delivery of both lines and movement is flawless. Joshua Foster as Polonius, Ophelia’s father and Claudius’ advisor, and Zachary Sexton as Alfred, a scandalous tragedian, deliver stand-out performances.
The creative costume design by Michelle Hickman and the set and lighting design by Sean Urbantke add to this productions ability to draw the audience into the story. The sound design by Stephanie Condon gives this production a fresh, modern feel.
While Anne Arundel Community College has every reason to be proud of the gifted faculty, staff, students, and community volunteers responsible for bringing “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” to stage, this play is not for everyone. As an absurdist tragicomedy, the plot can be hard to follow. The language is heady and the lengthy, illogical dialogue can leave an audience feeling bewildered—or even a little bored. Watching this play requires mental commitment—and a working knowledge of the original “Hamlet.” So, bone up on your Shakespeare and have a cup of coffee before heading to the theater.
Running time: Two hours and five minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday through April 23, 2023 at Robert E. Kauffman Theater at Anne Arundel Community College, 101 College Parkway, Arnold, MD 21012. Tickets may be purchased in person at the box office or by calling 410-777-2457 or online by visiting here.