Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Grand Canyon University
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent review of Drinking Habits 2: Caught in the Act

Nick Boisvert and Nicholas Ryszkowski
Photo by Tim Trumble
While Tom Stoppard's latest play Leopoldstadt is running on Broadway after winning the 2020 Olivier award for Best New Play, Grand Canyon University is presenting the play that first got Stoppard noticed in 1966, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. With impressive leads and smart direction, it's a solid production of this existentialist comedy.

The play focuses almost entirely on its two title characters, who were childhood friends of the title character in Shakespeare's Hamlet. The title comes directly from a line of dialogue late in Hamlet. As the events in Hamlet take place offstage, with the main characters from that play reduced here to minor characters who occasionally find their way into Stoppard's piece, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ponder their place in the world as the plot plays out to the moment when they realize their unfortunate fate.

Stoppard depicts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as a cross between the comical duos of such absurdist comedies as Waiting for Godot and such classic clown duos as Laurel and Hardy. Under Claude Pensis' sharp direction, Nicholas Ryszkowski and Nick Boisvert are excellent as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, respectively. Ryszkowski is bright and charming as the simpleton Rosencrantz who delights in the games of chance they play to pass the time and Boisvert is firm and direct as the analytical voice of reason, Guildenstern. The two play off each other extremely well, and they realistically come across as best friends who have known each other forever.

Kenzie Huether is wonderful as the scrappy Leading Player of the performance troupe who presents the play within the play in Hamlet and Cooper Townley is appropriately brooding as Hamlet. The rest of the cast are all very good in portraying the other well-known characters from Hamlet and the rest of the acting troupe members.

The effective set design by William Symington depicts a rolling hillside in the first act and, with the addition of a few large barrels, the inside of a ship in act two. Nola Yergen's costumes are excellent, with the use of various fabrics and patterns for the period designs.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is equally profound and comical, with moments that are laugh out loud funny and an ending that may bring a tear to your eye or put a lump in your throat. While it will help if you've seen Hamlet or at least are aware of the plot points in that play, you don't have to have an intimate knowledge of Shakespeare's play to comprehend what Stoppard has written.

The roles of Guildenstern and the Leading Player are double cast, with Daniella Brown playing Guildenstern and Christian Shepherd the Leading Player at some performances.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead runs through February 12, 2023, at Grand Canyon University's Ethington Theatre, 3300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-639-8880

Director: Claude Pensis
Scenic Designer: William Symington
Costume Designer: Nola Yergen
Hair and Makeup Designer: Hailey Strobel
Sound Designer: Dexter Tuten
Props Designer: Reese Tate and Ivy Angle
Assistant Lighting Designer: Autumn Ford
Assistant Costume Designer: Em Van Vleck
Assistant Director: Kaylee Wilson
Technical Director: Carrie Hurst
Stage Manager: Kiah von Boeck

The Cast:
Rosencrantz: Nicholas Ryszkowski
Guildenstern: Nick Boisvert
The Player: Kenzie Huether
Alfred: Anthony Piunno
Tragedians: Jassiel Rodriguez, Alex Pearson, Patrick Ryan
Hamlet: Cooper Townley
Ophelia: Aly Rika
Claudius: Dalton Smith
Gertrude: Anna Mettes
Gertrude Understudy: Ninnettia Woodward
Polonius: Nick Philips
Soldier: Thomas Heggem
Courtiers: Kylie Boggus, Miles Harris