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Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013

Hamlet’s Best Buddies

‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’ in Spring Green

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Life’s random cruelties drive the existential farce Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which opened last Saturday at American Players Theatre in Spring Green. But Tom Stoppard’s 1966 absurdist tragicomedy, based on two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, owes more to Samuel Beckett than the Bard. In fact, at times, Shakespeare’s greatest play seems incidental to the action it has spawned.

In the original, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, childhood friends of Hamlet, are employed by King Claudius to uncover Hamlet’s plot against him. Hamlet easily outwits the pair, who end up dead, as the title suggests.

The same dramatic trajectory drives Stoppard’s play, but Rosencrantz (Ryan Imhoff) and Guildenstern (Steve Haggard) spend most of their time involved in meaningless activities, philosophical musings and wondering just what the hell is going on. A group of traveling tragedians led by The Player (an excellent John Pribyl) echo Hamlet’s meta-theatrical “play within a play” structure, adding greater dimension to their misunderstanding.

Director James Bohnen allows his actors broad comic interpretations, but not at the expense of the work’s deeper meanings. Major players from APT’s production of Hamlet, also running in repertory this season, reprise their roles here, providing effective connective tissue between the productions, with Matt Schwader as Hamlet and Jim DeVita as King Claudius.

The connection doesn’t help the play’s protagonists, however, who wander through the play hoping someone will show them the way. Their journey is not so different from the ones we all face.

APT’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead runs at the Up-the-Hill amphitheater through Oct. 5.

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