Alive and Well

On Stage

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Directed by Linus Gelber

Written By Tom Stoppard

At Leverett House tonight and tomorrow

CONTRARY TO the titular claim, Rosencrantz (Linus Gelber) and Guildenstern (Andrew Watson), those two fatuous forgettables out of Hamlet, have been revived once again. Poor fellows, they're forced once more to wrestle with the existential riddles of Tom Stoppard's 20-year-old classic. Lucky for us, though, because the Leverett House production is a compellingly clever and lively show, a splendid send-off for the house theatricals season.

The action has already begun as the audience files in: on a bare stage, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are flipping coins to pass the time. Stoppard has removed them from Hamlet and left them in limbo, without a script or even stage directions. They can't even keep their names straight. Adding to their general disorientation, the coins keep turning up heads, 92 times in a row.

These first moments hint at the high level of invention and energy sustained throughout the show. Watson's grimacing Guildenstern flips his coins from every conceivable angle and contorted stance, while Gelber's Rosencrantz picks up the coins with a flat unquestioning "Heads." In this way, each quickly establishes a distinct personality for his character; the contrast adds spark to their rapid-fire repartee.

Watson plays Guildenstern as a frustrated intellectual, spinning out syllogisms and setting up models in hope of discovering significance in the larger scheme of life. Gelber's Rosencrantz is more at ease making feeble, hilariously incongruent conversation.

FOR THE MOST PART, the two wait for clues. When they are not jumping into the scenes where Shakespeare gave them a few lines, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern speculate upon their own missing motivations and memories, and pounce upon anyone or anything that might set them straight.

At one point, they come across a player (Andrew Gardner) and his acting troupe, touring the countryside with their bawdy plays of "blood, love and rhetoric." Gardner displays just the right blend of braggadacio and jaded wisdom, as when he informs the mixed-up pair that "uncertainty is the normal state." The troupe, a mute foursome of half-wits, is perfectly, wonderfully imbecilic.

Gelber's straightforward direction showcases Stoppard's sharp verbal exchanges and dazzling wordplay. He and Watson make a fine team, both of them endearing in their pathetic plight. And but for a few swallowed lines, the supporting cast keeps the inspiring lunacy going at a quick, clever pace. Stoppard's stock of metaphysical puns and absurd rhetoric of despair flies so fast that they rarely become over-bearing. From all sides of the coin, a spirited showing for two of the Bard's interchangeable bit players.