BWW Review: Theatrics and Comedy are Alive in 'ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD' at Theatre Downtown

BWW Review: Theatrics and Comedy are Alive in 'ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD' at Theatre Downtown

In the William Shakespeare's classic tragedy "Hamlet", the duo of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are the toss away characters charged with spying on the Danish prince. They are the hapless fools. Think Laurel and Hardy, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Spongebob and Patrick, or Trump and Sessions. Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" is a cerebral buddy comedy/tragedy with a delightfully theatrical flair. Stoppard pulls "Hamlet" apart, turning the spotlight on these two sidekicks, drawing them to center-stage.

BWW Review: Theatrics and Comedy are Alive in 'ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD' at Theatre Downtown

A flipping of coin opens the door to this surreal tale. The two have been seemingly cast into a surreal plane of existence. The pace is set as they struggle with a philosophical understanding of probability. The theories have captivated their minds. There is an existential feeling about to this play right from the start. It's not a straight play. It is a surreal comedy poking fun at the perils presented to fated Rosencrantz and gentile Guildenstern. Their reality is not solid; it is fluid and ever changing. For those unfamiliar, Rosencrantz (Jonathan Sweatt) and Guildenstern (Nick Crawford) are two minor characters mentioned in Shakespeare's "Hamlet." The two were schoolyard chums with The King of Denmark who were given the job to forcibly return his nephew Hamlet to the King of England. Hamlet escaped while setting the duo up to be executed. (Spoiler alert: everyone in Hamlet dies) The plot of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" plays out in their minds. Like a replay after they have been killed, or is it before? Writer Tom Stoppard painted this tale with a Salvador Dali approach to storytelling. Nothing made sense until you let go of what you know and embrace what you don't.

BWW Review: Theatrics and Comedy are Alive in 'ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD' at Theatre Downtown

The comedy is steeped in the leads chemistry and multi layered conversations with a cast of characters. The play takes off like a rocket with consistent fast paced, pithy dialogue. The actors deliver many long passages of material in a way that you don't get lost in the words. Most of the actors gave characters inflection, delivery and solid timing bringing many well deserved laughs. This is not a period piece parse. The production is an amalgam of period language and wardrobe. Mixed in however are many modern elements that give the production an interesting otherworldly feel. Puppets, umbrellas, masks and "jazz cigarettes" Director Mel Christian puts together a bold mix of classic theatrical elements, exciting staging, and a creative vision for this production. The cast is highlighted by Hamlet (Seth Burgess), who gives breath to a wispy but dangerously mad prince. The Player (Bates Redwine) is the comically brash ringleader of a troupe of vagabond actors with panache for pushing the envelope of society's norms.

BWW Review: Theatrics and Comedy are Alive in 'ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD' at Theatre Downtown

The aesthetic elements are a treat to the eyes. A near minimalist well-designed wood set with tall swashes of fabric gives the stage levels and depth for the actors to play in. The expressive period costumes give the actors performance a perfect touch. The play is lengthy, clocking in at about two and a half hours. The continuous energetic pace Sweatt and Crawford set from the start makes the play engaging and highly entertaining. If they were not on point, it would be a real tragedy. (you see what I did there). Some of the supporting players were struggling to keep up with that pace however.

BWW Review: Theatrics and Comedy are Alive in 'ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD' at Theatre Downtown

The Player (Redwine) has a line that stood out to me as a lightning rod. "We are actors! We are the opposite of people." This line rings with truth in many ways. The otherworldly experience actors experience when being on stage lends its essence to the heart of this play. These characters are just that, characters. Can they ever really die? Flip a coin and find out.

BWW Review: Theatrics and Comedy are Alive in 'ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD' at Theatre Downtown

Crawford and Sweatt both bring an impressive comedic chemistry and energetic delivery that propels the play. The two bumble their way from one situation to the next. "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" brings laughs along with some deep reflections into the pool of probability.

Theatre Downtown

"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead"

Written by Tom Stoppard

Directed by Mel Christian

Rosencrantz - Jonathan Sweatt

Guildenstern - Nick Crawford

The Player - Bates Redwine

Hamlet Seth Burgess

Theatre Downtown. 2410 5th Ave S, (in Fifth Ave Antiques) Birmingham, AL. It runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 8pm June 14th - 30th Tickets: $20 ($12 Students)

Tickets and more info at www.theatredowntown.org or at (205) 565- 8838

Photo Credit - Steven Ross

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From This Author David Edward Perry

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