Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Also see Dean's review of The Jewel in the Manuscript
For those unfamiliar with the play, well, it's hard to summarize in a few sentences. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are fairly minor characters from Hamlet, and Stoppard makes them the protagonists of a philosophical spin-off of sorts. The two are friends of Hamlet, summoned by King Claudius (Dachary Vann) and Queen Gertrude (Mariah Martinez) to learn what ails Hamlet. Along the way, the duo share long dialogues and monologues about life, death, and who they areoften forgetting their own names and what exactly it is they are supposed to do next. Lawson skillfully directs her ensemble cast, weaving together comedy and drama while working with a challenging script.
The leads, Ty Shoemake as Guildenstern and Stephen Armijo as Rosencrantz, are well suited for their respective roles and share great chemistry on stage. Shoemake gives Guildenstern an effectively high-strung disposition as he goes off on his musings (which sometimes turn into rants) about things like the law of diminishing returns, divine intervention, syllogisms, and the philosophical implications of a coin always landing on heads. Armijo balances Shoemake with his performance of Rosencrantz; at first he seems somewhat bored by his friend's ramblings, himself discussing less heavy subjects like how often he needs to clip his toenails. As the play goes on and the characters develop, though, Rosencrantz's own inner struggles come to light, and Armijo lends both emotional complexity and a sense of innocence to his role. Armijo and Shoemake continually bounce off of each other with jokes, word games, arguments, and a few tender moments indicative of their shared bonds of friendship and a common struggle.
Somàh Haaland is the Player, leader of the troupe of tragedians whom our protagonists encounter during their journey and, we come to learn, are the same actors Hamlet enlists for the play he uses to determine Claudius' guilt as his father's murderer. Haaland has a strong stage presence fitting for her character: sharp, confident, and a demanding director. Gerome Olona's Hamlet is exceptionally brooding, wearing all black and sometimes dark sunglasses to match his angst-filled temperament.
The play is staged on a visually interesting, abstract set, fitting for the subject matter: a diagonal pattern covers the floor, tall stone arches stand upstage, and an asymmetrical structure at center stage is the center of much of the action. My only critique is a minor one: once or twice a location change happens but with little visual designation; a minimal set change could be helpful. Most of the time, though, lighting, sound, or at least dialogue effectively denote setting changes.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead continues through November 4. Tickets are $12 General, $10 Faculty and Seniors, and $8 UNM Staff and Students. Call the UNM Ticket Office at 505-925-5858 or visit www.unmtickets.com to purchase.