“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”

–The School of Theatre and Dance of Northwestern University in DeKalb, Illinois presented “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” Friday evening.
–The three acts were performed in The Player’s Theatre, an intimate space that has the flexibility to produce action either proscenium-style or theatre-in-the-round as was this play. Particularly effective was the use of aisles for entrances and exits to produce a prevailing “surround sound” of play action.
–Directed by Stanton Davis, the play represents a specific style of creativity, “Theatre of the Absurd,” a mood mainly of European playwrights in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s of the 20th century. The theme often pits man against the absurdity of the world and all its uncontrollable forces, irrational and meaningless.
–English playwright Tom Stoppard took two courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, from the action of “Hamlet” and followed them into their own spin-off of ridiculousness. It was a flavor of Shakespeare spun into “Seinfeld-esque” nonsense. The men morphed into each other as a comedy duo, teasing, ribbing, and exchanging meaningless word plays as they attempt to find a purpose of their journey. Along the way are kings and queens, nefarious Vaudevillian characters and darkened comedy in contrast.
–The demanding lead roles were played by BFA students Joe Mikieta as Rosencrantz and Troy Peckham as Guildenstern. Their dynamics of vocal play with precision comedic timing were stellar as was strong stage presence. The transition from serious to silly was thoroughly engaging, despite the rather lengthy plot of action.
–Also notable was lead Ariel Begley as “Player,” a traveling actor. What she possibly lacked in vocal timbre to carry the heavy role, she more than made up for in movement and emotional timing. Familiar to NIU stage as a junior in the BFA program, her past credits include a most engaging and memorable production, “17 Tolbiac.”
–Furthermore, her work as movement coach in ‘Rosencrantz’ was further testament that university theatre programs have a roster of rich talent and background to draw from. Begley was raised in Discovery Mime Theatre in South Dakota, touring with her parents from as early as toddler.
–Davis noted that Begley was able to put recurring movement themes into the plot of action in the style of Theatre of the Absurd that also has recurring wordplay, adding to the sophistication of the presentation.
–Her ensemble of goofy Tragedians included NIU actors Eric Chambliss, Ellen DeSitter, Gabrielle Elise Walsh with Victor Gurevich as Player queen. The troupe entered and exited with delightfully bawdy lyrics and various unrefined moods to the action. A special note goes for Chambliss and DeSitter for Vaudevillian tap excellence at opening of third act.
–Elsewhere in various energetic roles included Kate Booth, Brian Downing, Zach Neiditch, Tim Olsen as Hamlet and Lauren Powell.