The UC Davis Theater Department’s fall season production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a worthy rendition of the original, written by Tom Stoppard. Absurdest in nature, the two and a half hour long play sees to it that the secondary characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (originally from Hamlet) get their share of existential reasoning.
As the lights rose on the wooden stage of the Wright Theater on Friday night, they touch upon two characters seeming to drift in and out of each other’s identity. Whether it had been Rosencrantz or Guildenstern delivering the lines remains an enigma; however the two actors Mitchell Vanlandinghem and Will Klundt do an admirable job to accost the role. They really did give the characters a sense of feigned purpose, fading into the background among the supporting cast.
Much of Vanlandinghem’s and Klunt’s word play is done without the impress of rhythm upon the lines, all at once appearing confused and mechanical. It’s as if the failure to realize the play’s absurdest nature, translated to the roundabout ways of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and if this was intentional then it is brilliant.
Two intermissions divided the three-act play and each fade-in from black further gave sense to the non-sequitor world that surrounds R and G. The stage direction here utilized all of what Wright Theater has to offer, completing the experience through sound, lighting and set pieces.
The score composed by Dan Wilson gives the play the needed auditory excitement to stir the audience. At times the sound matched the physical presence of the characters on stage with seamless effort, adding certain deftness to the characters’ movements.
From the music of the players off-stage, to the tone of the composition, the sound design gave the audience an idea of the depth of the stage, as well as the uncertainty surrounding the characters. It was done particularly well in the pirate scene, remaining consistent throughout the duration of the play. During certain scenes the score worked also with the lighting design to appeal fully to the audience’s senses.
“Words, words. They’re all we have to go on,” Rosencrantz states in the play, and it is true that in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead dialogue remains the only way the characters can assert themselves. Klundt and Vanlandinghem here capture the frantic helplessness of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who themselves are trapped within the metatheatre of Hamlet.
In a performance that served comedic value to the audience and in turn received a good bit of empathy back, both Klundt and Vanlandinghem do well to elicit an emotional connection with the audience. However, the two are often overshadowed by The Player’s ensemble. Appearing on occasion to give light on R and G’s futility, The Player, acted by Bobby August Jr., commanded the stage with great effect, able to arrest the audience’s attention with succinct delivery of lines. To him, all paths ended in death, but not before the gobbledygook in between.
Granada Artist-in-Residence Michael Barakiva is the man that ties the play together. Having already directed The Zona Rosa Project, the theatre department’s other play that ran in October, Barakiva brings his NYC tempered director’s eye to Davis’s Wright Theater.
The novel use of the set is a fine direction for an absurdest play such as this, utilizing huge set pieces to distinguish between each act. For the entire third act, a sail dominated the view of the stage, giving an air of grandness to the space in contrast with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s insignificance. It is with this gestalt imagery that gave rise to the thought of a space more vast than the dimensions of the stage.
To that, Michael Barakiva’s rendition of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is one that holds up well on the Wright Theatre stage. The show runs again this Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m.
PETER AN can be reached at theaggie.org.