There is exactly one word that sums up Shakespeare’s Hamlet perfectly: madness. And then, there are exactly two words that sum up Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: comedic madness.
A little bit of Hamlet 101 for everybody, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were messengers that had minor roles in Hamlet. In fact, the two had such small roles that throughout the original play, they never once make a physical appearance nor have any spoken lines — only mentioned in passing by other characters onstage. From Nov. 17 to Dec. 3, Granada Artist-in-Residence Michael Barakiva will be bringing Tom Stoppard’s absurdist Shakespearean play to life on the stage of the UC Davis Main Theatre.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a play by Stoppard based on Hamlet, will be the last production directed by Barakiva, who had previously directed The Zona Rosa Project. For this production, Barakiva has created a unique stage setting by combining 1920s Hollywood silent films and an ethereal dream world. In addition, he will have dumb-shows in the play. A dumb-show is basically the performance of a play without any text and it was quite popular in Elizabethan Times. And the dumb-shows will contribute to the silent film atmosphere of the play.
“The play has several interesting elements,” Barakiva said. “We have Tragedians, actors who have to be able to do a lot without speaking and even play instruments. We have actors who speak Shakespearean text and we make Shakespearean jokes funny. And Rosencrantz and Guildenstern never leave the stage.”
What Barakiva himself finds interesting about the play is that Stoppard plucked the most obscene, rarely seen and used characters from one of the most famous plays in the English language world and created another play entirely just about them. During the process of re-writing Shakespeare, Stoppard also managed to totally transform Shakespeare and make it ridiculous and humorous for the audience. Instead of the usual facial cringes during the many gruesome scenes which pepper Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead had the ability to make audience members fall out of their seats to the ground in laughter.
Mitchell VanLandingham, a junior linguistics major who plays Rosencrantz, admires how the UC Davis production highlights the visual delights of the play.
“From a technical aspect, this production pushes the limits of what magic you can do in the theatre through special effects, set, lighting, music and sound,” VanLandingham said.” On the page, this play reads as the story of two men cycling through a series of bewildering events, but this production of it becomes a fantasy — which itself, surprisingly for a comedy, turns into a nightmare.”
Will Klundt, the second year MFA in Acting candidate playing Guildenstern, also commended on the superb technical aspects of the play.
“What I love most about this production is that it takes advantage of all of the possible ways that theatre can be magical,” Klundt said. “From live music, illusions, juggling, word play, an extraordinary story, to beautiful spectacle and hopefully a deeper understanding of who we are and how we live.”
The two actors agree that besides the striking visuals of the play, comedy is really the heart of everything.
“Come for the existential philosophy, stay for the hat tricks,” Klundt said.
Such an amazing production didn’t come at an easy price though.
“It was definitely thrilling and challenging. There’s no such thing as a standard production so you can really do anything with it,” Barakiva said.
In spite of this, Barakiva hopes that through the play, he’ll be able to give all the audience members a memorable experience.
“I always feel sad whenever I see young people just mainly interacting with their cellphones, which can cause mass misanthropy and the destruction of attention span. The experience of watching a play is different from any other experience you’ll have in life,” Barakiva said.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead will be showing today through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 20 and Dec. 1 to 3 at 2 p.m. . Tickets are $17/$19 general; $12/$14 for students, children, and senior citizens. They can be bought at mondaviarts.org.
MICHELLE RUAN can be reached at email@example.com.