Readers of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” may not remember the two minor characters around whom Tom Stoppard chose to structure his play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” The work, which was produced by Masque and Gown, opened last night in Pickard Theater and will be playing tonight as well as tomorrow night.
The performance directly addresses questions that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern—who, in “Hamlet,” appear only in the beginning to deliver a letter carrying word of their own deaths—may have had, such as “who am I? Why do I exist?” and “What is this death to which I have been so casually consigned?”
We see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (played by Nick Edises ’13 and Kacey Berry ’13) struggling with these questions while behind the scenes of a performance of “Hamlet.”
Other characters, including the actor playing Hamlet, come and go and interact with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on various occasions, but the play centers on the dynamic between the duo as they joke, argue and pose impossible questions
It is a difficult task to fully portray such a complex collision of absurdity, tragedy, and comedy, but Bowdoin’s actors work hard to keep all these elements alive.
Rosenbloom’s choice to cast Berry in a traditionally male role emphasizes the existential crises that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern endure; originally they are given no character traits, and so they are virtually identical despite obvious differences in appearance.
First-time director Ben Rosenbloom ’14 said that one of the show’s biggest challenges was finding a way to make the stage dynamic despite few actors and a barebones set.
Rosenbloom said he suggested “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” as Masque and Gown’s fall show because it is entertaining but has a wealth of underlying meanings and themes.
“I catch a new thing every time I read it,” said Rosenbloom. “It doesn’t pull any puches.”
Audiences unaccustomed to theater may find it difficult to fully absorb the show’s subtleties on first watch, and everyone could benefit from brushing up on “Hamlet.” But extensive background knowledge is not a prerequisite; the themes are clear through the performance alone.
Eventually, we become aware that we are watching a play within a play while living in our own insignificant “plays.” Rosenbloom hopes that audiences will “come away with a greater appreciation for life” while being heartily entertained. After all, if it is true that we are all merely players on a stage with our entrances and exits, then Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s desperate and comical journey has a lot to do with the soul-searching of our own lives and identities.