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Theatre of the Absurd: ‘Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead’

Marielle Hampe | Thursday, November 4, 2010

Junior Nick Brandt, director of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” characterizes the play as a “well-known, funny, dark, hysterical and odd play.” His statement sums up the quirky and absurdist tragicomedy written by Tom Stoppard.

The play expands on the actions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two courtiers in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

The major characters in “Hamlet” are given an insignificant role, and the misadventures of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern dominate the plot.

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” will be showing today through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Washington Hall Lab Theater. Tickets are $3. 

The play features sophomore Pablo Muldoon as Rosencrantz and sophomore Brian Rodgers as Guildenstern. Thirteen actors play a combination of minor and major roles. The Not-So-Royal-Shakespeare Company produced “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” under the guidance of junior Brenna Williams, senior Iraisa Ann Reilly and junior Tara Duffy. 

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” is a play in the theater of the absurd, a sharp contrast with traditional theater. In traditional theater, characters have clearly defined roles with clearly defined motives and desires. The theater of the absurd emphasizes the randomness and absurdity of human nature by using often disjointed, meaningless and repetitious dialogue. The plots often lack realistic development and the characters engage in confusing situations.  

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern live in a world utterly beyond their comprehension. The two men often misunderstand each other and engage in long nonsensical dialogues. The two characters could be classified as clowns, but they sometimes have philosophical arguments in their ramblings, even if they soon jump to a new topic. 

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” is a play unlike many plays viewers have probably seen before. Brandt said that the most challenging part of performing this play was “communicating how to act and produce a piece from the theatre of the absurd.”

“There are only relative amounts of definition to the characters, and the dialogue between the characters often becomes abnormal,” he said.

The result is a hysterical and entertaining piece of theater that still has parts that are “very poignant and dramatic,” said freshman Fiora O’Meara, the play’s stage manager.

“Every bit has double meaning and is existentialist and philosophical,” O’Meara said.

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” works to break down the “fourth wall” between the actors and the audience.

“Sometimes throughout the course of the play, the actors will separate from the scene and recognize the audience’s presence,” Brandt said.

This technique is referred to as metatheatre. A play employing the technique of metatheatre generally comments on itself and draws attention to the fact that the actors are really actors.

Brian Rodgers, who plays Guildenstern in the play, described the play’s metatheatrical element. “I’m a character within the play, but I’m aware I’m an actor. After rehearsal, I sometimes find myself asking, ‘Did I just do that?’ Developing the character takes work, and you have to be very conscious of what you’re doing.”

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” is unlike most pieces of theater. It challenges tradition and provides an entertaining insight into the misadventures and comedic interactions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.