Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

I was excited to see another show at the New Hazlett Theater this past Friday having thoroughly enjoyed my previous experience of All the Names in roughly the same location. Although these performances were housed in the same building, my experiences of each were extremely different. This was the first time I was experiencing a show in the theater portion of the venue and not roaming around the corridors and rooms of the old abandoned library. I appreciate New Hazlett’s creative use of each and every inch of their space and Friday’s performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, produced by new to the scene company TACT, only further solidified my love for the venue’s performance picks.

In case you are like me and haven’t read Shakespeare’s Hamlet since high school and forget whom Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are, they are both minor characters in the original play that are given instructions from King Claudius to keep tabs on Hamlet and find out what is causing his “madness”. It might have something to do with the fact that Claudius killed his father, took his place on the throne, and is now shacking up with his mother…but that’s just a wild guess. Anyway, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are far too deeply absorbed in their existential crises to put the pieces of this puzzle together and let Hamlet outmaneuver and outsmart them through nearly every scene. Luckily, the two characters’ wits, a player, and some tragedians add some comedic relief to what would otherwise be an extremely melancholy play.

Quinn Patrick Shannon (Rosencrantz) and Johnny Terreri (Guildenstern) completely stole the show and given they were the main characters on stage for about 98% of the time I’m certainly glad they did. Shannon breathed a hilarious charm into Rosencrantz, which began to rub off on Terreri’s Guildenstern towards the end of the play as the character gave off a more serious tone up until then. They truly embodied these characters and gave the audience more than a few belly laughs throughout the night with their facial expressions, charisma, and execution of several amusing lines. Their chemistry was impeccable and not easily matched.

The Player (Christopher Josephs) and his several accompanying tragedians were equally as humorous throughout the night as they tirelessly worked to bring the audience blood, sweat, and tears through each of their performances…literally. One of the main tragedians, Alfred (Matt Henderson), had me laughing throughout the night at his quirky mannerisms and willingness to acclimate to any situation, however ridiculous it may be. I found myself wanting to be his best friend by the end of the night and I don’t know why…it was just something about his face. Other noteworthy performances came from Jonathan Visser (King Claudius), Kristiann Menotiades (Queen Gertrude), and Shaun Cameron Hall (Hamlet). Hamlet didn’t have a huge role in this performance, but in the few scenes that he did, Hall’s stage presence was intricate and commanding. I also want to give a quick shout out to John Henry Steelman, who played one of the King’s advisors, Polonius, in this performance. I feel like I’ve seen him in about 70 plays (rough estimate) in the past few months and I don’t know where he finds the time, but I’m glad he does because he does it well.

The scenery was rather minimal in this performance, but the wardrobes were incredible. I particularly enjoyed the Queen’s lavish garments as well the tragedians’ multiple costumes. I also appreciated the use of the theater’s backdrop for several of the scenes, which consisted of multiple old apartment-looking levels and doors. This worked well when multiple dialogues needed to be taking place between several of the characters. The fashion and surroundings worked well with the era the play was set in and only further added to the English dialogue and traditional customs taking place on the stage. My only critique of the setting was when the music tracks seemed to be skipping towards the end of the show. This may have been on purpose, but it threw me off a bit.

I would definitely recommend this performance to theater fans, but do warn that if you are looking for a night of thoughtless entertainment this is not the performance for you. Being a “theater newbie” myself, it wasn’t always easy to follow along with where the dialogue was going and some of the references were lost on me. All in all, though, I felt the actors did a superb job at making the performance easily accessible and entertaining for all. Be sure to check it out before the last performance on June 28. Hit up TACT’s Facebook page here.

Performance Date: Friday, June 26, 2015