May 20, 2006

All the world's a stage

That's from As you like it, unfortunately, because it'd be an even better title for this post if it'd come from Hamlet. Tonight I saw this week's Studio offering, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, by Tom Stoppard, which isn't really based on Hamlet but might be said to be affiliated with it.

I have my usual assortment of notes scribbled on the back of the program, but I'm having a hard time putting them together into a coherent post; they all seem too picky, that is, the ones that aren't embarrassingly gushy about how great the show was. I've a note about how well Doug Porter did sycophantic and how well Eric Feltes did creepy-crazy, and a few notes about how well Matt Allis did all sorts of things. These notes don't really lend themselves to critique, and I'm having a hard time putting my thoughts together in a coherent fashion.

Part of the problem is that the show is just so odd. I've certainly never seen anything quite like it. Billed as "theatre of the absurd", it's one non sequitur after catfish,* and it started making a lot more sense after I stopped thinking about it too much. Kind of an impressionism of the stage—back off and look at the big picture, and you can actually see it, or at least get a feel for it. Even though there was very little explicit fourth-wall humour, I felt throughout the entire show that we the audience were much more involved in the production than usual, partly because the characters, though addressing each other, seemed to be talking to us a lot of the time.

The main characters, onstage for the entire play, are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, bit parts in Shakespeare's version of events. Here, though, they talk to each other, trying to figure out what the hell has gotten into Prince Hamlet but mostly trying to figure out why they're there. Where "there" is is usually left somewhat ambiguous between "in this play", "in this room", or "alive", though it's clear that all is at least allegorically referring to this last, larger question of existence. Matt Schmalz's character is more the serious one, with Matt Allis as more of an, I don't know, "ingenu", more easily distracted and maybe not quite as sharp, though in the end just as concerned about answering the existential question. The two of them were well-cast, sustaining between them over two and a half hours of dialogue while remaining expressive and snappy. Allis in particular had the most amazing range of facial expression throughout the show, and both of them had their dialogue down so well that it sounded completely natural and perfectly timed—the "questions" scene was so flawlessly executed that it inspired a spontaneous and well-deserved round of applause from the audience.

The chemistry in the supporting cast was pretty darn good, too. For the leader of the acting troupe, we saw Morgan Cohen, and although the part seems to have been written for a male actor, she (along with, presumably, director Jason Cascio) figured out how to make it a truly female role. It fit perfectly as such, other than the "he"s and "him"s, which I'm a little surprised they didn't just tweak in the script. Although, if you're going for "absurd"....

Part of me really wants to see another production of this, now, to see just how much of it was Jason and the cast putting their stamp on it. I loved the silent part(s), for instance, and I'm curious how much of that (the blocking, the length) is shared among all productions. The "what next?" at the end becomes so pointed as a result of it; "what indeed?", you find yourself asking. This is how they spend their whole life, sitting around and waiting for the next thing. Heck, it's how a lot of people spend their life, just sitting there and waiting for the next task someone hands them.

This show was very long and entirely weird. I got the impression that the weirdness put off a lot of the audience; which was too bad, because Jason and his cast put together a really tight little (well, not that little) production. I still don't really understand it. But I thought it was fantastic.

On potential two-person activities: "What did you have in mind, a short, blunt, human pyramid?" --Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead

Posted by blahedo at 1:16am on 20 May 2006
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