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Now Playing: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Notes on the Old Globe's farce


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, now playing at The Old Globe, resurrects two minor characters from Hamlet and makes them the focus, while Hamlet takes place offstage (and the filming of it, fake crew included, occasionally meanders into the action of the show). It’s an existential tragicomedy in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to figure out what they’re doing and how they’ll survive, given their fate (it’s in the title), and they even mix up their own identities (Which one is Rosencrantz and which one is Guildenstern? Answer: it doesn’t matter). 

Written by Tom Stoppard, the man who gave us Shakespeare in LoveRosencrantz won a Tony Award when it debuted on Broadway. Get ready for fast, witty dialogue. You must pay attention to get the most out of it. In other words, this is not the play in which to try Kimberly Cunningham’s Shakespeare drinking game (although I did drink).

Photo by Michael Lamont.

I was happy to discover John Lavelle (above left), who played Rosencrantz. He was like the Jim Carrey of Shakespearean theater. So expressive, such great timing and delivery. Turns out he has done Broadway and is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. So it wasn’t just me that thought he was supertalented. Sherman Howard is compelling and powerful as The Player. Another standout is Charles Janasz as Polonius. 

Alas, my mind wandered, which it tends to do during live performances, and I found myself thinking about my days at Torrey Pines High School, when I first read Rosencrantz, as well as Waiting for Godot (both very similar). Why did I take to those plays so much, and not enjoy the relatively linear and realistic narratives of Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye, which I also read at TPHS? Funny how you’re ready for certain things at certain times. Anyway, total sidenote. Too much wine.

Back to the theater. If you’ve never been to the Shakespeare Festival at Balboa Park, it is a supercool experience. The theater is really impressive and different from all other amphitheaters in San Diego (you feel like you’re in London or somewhere) and the rows of seats are very raked, so you can see easily from every seat, even if you’re short. (Tip: Bring a blanket because it gets cold, or you can rent one for $2 I think.)

Sidenote (and another tip): Did you know that nearby restaurant Cucina Urbana has a shuttle before and after the show, if you don’t have time for or don't want a post-dinner passeggiata across the bridge (a stroll I found rather romantic)?

Anyhoo. Great show. That Lavelle. Wow. (If you go on another night, he plays Snug in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Lancelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice—look for him!)


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Adrian Noble
Through Sept. 26, 2013 
Lowell Davies Festival Theatre
Tickets start at $29

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