The Guardian: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

by Robert Avila

Tom Stoppard’s sensational first play will probably never have the impact it had in 1966—partly because it proved so influential—but TheatreFIRST’s generally sturdy production wades in enthusiastically and the results remain ultimately, if more quietly, contagious. In a cheeky, knowing meld of Beckett and Shakespeare, Stoppard crafts a heady as well as deeply silly existential comedy, told from the perspective of two hapless minor characters in Hamlet—the somewhat interchangeable and finally expendable Rosencrantz (Kalli Jonsson) and Guildenstern (Michael Storm)—whose sealed fate is signaled by a changeless sky (manifest in Rick Ortenblad’s scenic design), coins that only come up heads, and their inexplicable inability to leave the stage. Nevertheless, our bemused protagonists—preoccupied with nameless anxiety, word games, and endless summarizing—are the last ones to figure it all out. Leave it to a roving thespian (the excellent Andrew Hurteau) and his amusing caravan of out-of-work players, strutting and fretting along, to gradually drop some knowledge on our heroes. If the first act runs slow and rough, MaryBeth Cavanaugh’s firm direction, graceful choreography, and shrewd use of live and recorded music contribute to a general warming by acts two and three. Meanwhile, the play’s bandying of philosophical ideas and fertile metaphors ensures the monkey business does not escape some poignancy by the end.