Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

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ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, Folio Theatre Company. Tom Stoppard is the Rice Krispies of playwrights: supplied with the milk of theatrical invention, his works snap, crackle, and pop. When he's not properly served, however, his plots turn soggy, his jokes seem stale, and his wonderful comic dialogue loses its biting crunch. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Stoppard's existential Hamlet spin-off about Shakespeare's hapless second bananas sloshing around in the bowl of fate, can be a hilarious if somewhat overwrought intellectual exercise. But Folio Theatre's uninspired production spoon-feeds the audience the play's hackneyed philosophy, leaving them vaguely dissatisfied, longing for greater mental nourishment and thinking the playwright something of a pretentious flake.

The talented Glenn Swan and Shawn Douglass make for an amusing title duo, wittily exchanging comic banter about free will versus predetermination and the mental state of Prince Hamlet. The production functions best when they, and only they, are onstage. Those enacting the characters in Hamlet's play within a play, who rather unsubtly underscore Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's roles as ineffectual pawns, substitute volume and posturing for wit. Surely the players are meant to be hammy, but Stoppard intended them to be funny as well. A similar problem afflicts the major characters from Hamlet, who are minor characters here: their slapstick burlesque is forced and clunky.

Perhaps Alec Wild took on too much when he chose to direct not only this difficult play but Hamlet, running in repertory. This production is competent but rather flat. Maybe they ought to call it Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dull.

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