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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 10, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 06
Genders switch for excellent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Arts & Entertainment
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Genders switch for excellent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Seattle Public Theater
Through February 19


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two chumps in Shakespeare's Hamlet. They are friends of Hamlet, and the king (Hamlet's uncle, who has killed his brother - Hamlet's father) summons them to spy for him to ferret out why Hamlet is upset. They don't apparently know they're spies, they don't understand the politics of the court, and they just try to do what they're told. For their pains, the king sends them with Hamlet to England with a note to the English king that tells him to kill Hamlet immediately.

Hamlet reads the note and substitutes a new note telling the king to kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern immediately, and goes back to Denmark. So end Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They're dead.

Tom Stoppard's brilliant contemporary play, now a classic itself, takes the two chumps and builds a whole play around their befuddlement. But if you know Hamlet, then you know they are going to die - hence the title. Here's the main thing you have to know: the play has segments of Shakespeare's Hamlet inside it. Every once in a while, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are plunged into Shakespeare and then back out again. Now that you're aware of this, you're ahead of the curve and can understand everything.

A new production is being done by Seattle Public Theater, with a twist: the chumps are women. During the play, they meet the band of players who go to court and act out the play within Hamlet, in which the king's brother pours poison in the ear of the king, exactly what Hamlet believes his uncle did to his father. The Player, the leader of the troupe, is also played by a woman here.

The conceit works well. Ultimately, it needn't matter to an audience whether the characters are male or female. It doesn't detract, nor does it enhance. Keene and DiMarco are dressed androgynously in slacks, as is Hawkins in a huge cape-coat, and none is called upon to be very stereotypically male in the production. Also, the play is done in more or less modern dress, so translating it into a more modern outlook, Hamlet could well have a couple of clueless women friends, and a bunch of actors can certainly be led by a woman.

As long as the actors are strong - and Angela DiMarco, Alyssa Keene, and Heather Hawkins are strong actors - the subject matter and the comedy provide the interest. The subject matter really focuses on what makes a life important. It's an important topic and looms large for the audience since we know the lead characters are about to die. Is there some decision they can make that will change the outcome, or is it fate that dictates the rules? Stoppard's dialogue is funny and fast-paced for such a dire subject.

This is an intelligent production with a lot of spunk. Strong technical support is given, particularly by lighting designer Andrew D. Smith and sound designer Matt Starritt, and is especially evident in Starritt's use of unusual music. If you like to think and you like puzzles, get over to the Bathhouse soon.

For more information, go to www.seattlepublictheater.org or call 206-524-1300.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com.

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