“Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead” And As Funny As Ever At St. Louis Shakespeare

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Ted Drury and Rober Thibault as Guldenstern and Rosencrantz (or is that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?) at the St. Louis Shakespeare production. Photo: Ron James

Tom Stoppard dazzled audiences with his take on “Hamlet” back in the 60’s with a look at two minor characters who we follow in and around Elsinore while major folk from that Shakespeare drama drift in and out of their action. “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead” was one of those watershed moments in theatre history when a clever idea melded with a clever script to drive a thirsty audience to the well to drink it all in. Now St. Louis Shakespeare has brought this colorful cast of characters to life again.

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Wendy Renee Greenwood, Ted Drury, Nicholas Kelly and Robert Thibault in “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead” at St. Louis Shakespeare. Photo: Ron James

You no doubt remember the pair of school chums of Hamlet who offer sage as well as frivolous advice to the Prince of Denmark. News of their death in “Hamlet” doesn’t evoke a tear or even a thought, actually but when they become the focus of the play and Polonius, Ophelia, Claudius, Gertrude and even the Player from the play that Hamlet hopes will “catch the conscious of the king,” take a back seat, it takes on a whole new story.

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Robert Thibault and Ted Drury watch as Isaiah Di Lorenzo emotes during the St. Louis Shakespeare production of “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead.” Photo: Ron James

Robert Thibaut and Ted Drury recapture the errant pair in a most ingenious way. Almost like a great comedy team from the 50’s or 60’s they set each other up and wax philosophical (not so astute, yet philosophical nonetheless) in the Tom Stoppard nonstop wordplay and nonsense that is “R&G.” From the infamous coin tossing game as the play opens (90-something “heads” in a row) to their myriad other games and bets and into the marvelous patter that accentuates their lives, this is a glimpse of what these two characters probably do when they are “off stage” during “Hamlet.” In the Rep’s recent production of Shakespeare’s work, their Hamlet took on a wise-cracking tone as well and it was a fascinating new look at the character. Thibaut and Drury also change the dynamics of this play a bit with a more unconventional look at the pair.

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Eileen Engel as the pensive Ophelia in “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead” at St. Louis Shakespeare. Photo: Ron James

King Claudius- who killed Hamlet’s father and took, not only his crown but his wife as well, is played with a matter of fact (I’m the king and there’s nothing you can do about it) attitude by Nicholas Kelly. Boisterous yet secure, he is joined by the stately Wendy Renee Greenwood as Gertrude. The lovely and slightly pensive Eileen Engel plays an almost mute Ophelia and Dan McGee is the proper and befuddled elder statesman, Polonius. Rounding out the major cast of “Hamlet” and the minor cast of “Rosencrantz…etc.” is Scott McDonald as the melancholy Dane himself. Brooding and reflective, he is everything you expect from the Dane and less (by the nature of this version).

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The Players offer an impromptu performance during the St. Louis Shakespeare production of “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead.” Photo: Ron James

The true supporting characters to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are the players from “Hamlet” who are to perform in the royal court using a convenient piece in the repertoire that explores the killing of the king by his brother and the eventual take over of the throne. With bravado and just the right touch of “over the top,” Isaiah Di Lorenzo takes this Goth version of the lead player to new heights. From a coquettish lift of his kilt to dramatic poses and faces, he is the epitome of what this play needs. Where R & G are clever with their wordplay, the lead player takes the humor to the broadest level possible and it works beautifully.

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Dan McGee as Polonius and Scott McDonald as Hamlet in “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead” at St. Louis Shakespeare. Photo: Ron James

Joe Garner is the hapless “leading lady” persona of the troupe of players which also include Genevieve Collins as lead ukulele, Megan Wiegert, Cliff Turner and Michael Pierce. They all get their chance to shine in the off beat and almost impromptu performances they offer throughout the show.

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Headed for England are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with Hamlet on a deck chair in the background during the St. Louis Shakespeare production. Photo: Ron James

Artistic Director of St. Louis Shakespeare, Suki Peters, has directed with a nimble touch that brings out the clever humor of the piece while stamping it with her own sense of style and flair. Chuck Winning has brought a versatile set that transitions throughout the piece (it’s three acts, but moves very quickly). The Meredith LaBounty costumes are spot on adding touches of humor with an AC/DC tee shirt on one of the players and a God Save The Queen tee on Hamlet and, of course, the kilt that goes with the outrageous make up for the Player. Kevin Bowman’s lights are also quite effective.

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Hamlet reflects with R & G during the St. Louis Shakespeare production of “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead.” Photo: Ron James

“Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead” hasn’t been performed, to my knowledge, in the area for quite some time. Saw it quite a bit in the years following the Broadway run but that cutting edge wit and fascinating look at “Hamlet” from the back porch is always a welcome sight. St. Louis Shakespeare and Suki Peters have done it justice. It plays at the Ivory Theatre through April 15th. Contact boxoffice@stlshakespeare.org for tickets or more information.

 

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