THEATER | Theatre in the Round’s “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern” aren’t dead, they’re just dying

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Tom Stoppard’s classic 1967 play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead has a special resonance when staged at a community theater. The play centers on two characters who labor for recognition while a batty prince hops around and gets all the attention, for reasons that don’t seem entirely clear. The hardworking volunteer cast of Theatre in the Round’s production, glancing up the street at the Guthrie, must empathize. 

The play is an alternate take on Hamlet, telling the story from the perspective of two minor characters who strain mightily to become protagonists. The setup affords Stoppard the opportunity for much wry commentary on the original play—much like Wicked, Gregory Maguire’s through-the-looking-glass take on The Wizard of Oz—but Stoppard didn’t win a Tony just for being cute. R&G is also a meditation on fate and mortality, and the challenge for any production is to juggle the broad humor and the philosophical searching without losing its balance.

rosencrantz & guildenstern are dead, presented at theatre in the round through october 3. for tickets ($20) and information, see theatreintheround.org

Director John Gaspard makes good use of his resources—notably Theatre in the Round’s unique eponymous stage—but though the production doesn’t sag, it never really picks up steam either. One problem is the casting of the two leads. It’s no mean feat to play a supporting character in a leading role; there aren’t many actors the likes of Charlie Chaplin or Ricky Gervais. In this production, Dietrich Poppen (Guildenstern) and Connor Bohne (Rosencrantz) are all too convincing as men for whom the world has never had much use. They’re not bad with the Smothers-Brothers comic banter, but when they’re bored—which is often—we’re bored too. More successful are veteran actor Scott Keely, who leans into every line as a scenery-chewing actor leading a smutty troupe of traveling performers; and Adam Briesemeister, who plays Hamlet as a character whose trippy-dippy demeanor hides an edge of danger.

If you’re not already a Bardaholic or a fan of Stoppard’s brainy style, this production is probably not for you. Still, it’s Stoppard, and it’s not bad Stoppard. As Daily Planet blogger Matthew Everett wrote about a recent production of Angels in America, it’s “like pizza or sex. Even when it’s not the best pizza you’ve ever had, or the best sex you ever had, it’s still pizza, it’s still sex.”