Friday, March 12, 2010

Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead

For Amanda’s birthday, Brittany and I took her out to dinner and to see a stage performance of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead.  I oh-so-cunningly got to pay for the theater tickets and dessert, much to Amanda’s chagrin.  It definitely was a birthday of WIN!  Check out her recollection of the evening here!

We went to Paesano’s in the Quarry where Amanda got a Seared Tuna, Brittany got the Lobster Linguine, and I got Coriander-Crusted Salmon and we shared the Grand Marnier Souffle.  The bread selection was more varied than the Paesano’s on 1604 since they have a bakery on location in the Quarry.  The Grand Marnier soufflé was very nice - not super sweet, but sufficiently indulgent. All of the dishes were fantastic, per usual.

The play was at the Sterling Houston Theater in the Blue Star Arts complex downtown.  It was my first time to this theater and my second time to the Blue Star district at all.  I definitely want to go back again, perhaps to try out the Blue Star Brewery or Casbeers.  The theater itself was small, probably seating no more than a hundred people on small risers facing a floor stage.  We got seats on the second row stage right side.  We were really close to the stage and they were great seats.

I remember seeing the original Tom Stoppard movie (on VHS) in high school after we studied Hamlet.  My mom, as a statistics teacher, likes to quote the opening coin-flipping scene in some of her lessons. But other than that, I barely remembered the content of Hamlet, much less Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead.  

The San Antonio Shakespeare Company put on a really well done performance.  The actors did a really great job and the staging was great.  The title pair confuse their names, so I will refer to Guildenstern as the talkative one and Rosencrantz as the oblivious one.  My favorite performance was Guildenstern’s, and I got to shake his hand after the show.  It was hard to follow along with the Guil’s logic, but that’s kind of the point.  He talks himself in circles.  I was still really impressed by Rosencrantz.  I loved the small mannerisms Ros used instead of words to portray the character.  Alfred, the token transvestite, was also a great addition to the cast.  I was originally put off by Hamlet, thought his “insanity” was overdone, especially with the crazy-eyes he used.  After reading Hamlet, now I think it was a good choice.   We went from laughing with and at the cast at the beginning to at the edge of our seats at the end.  I felt attached to the characters, so their death made me tear up a little.  Truly a great performance.

Afterward I did manage to get through Hamlet.  Hamlet really is a player, in both the actor and a**hole sense of the word, though it is explained as his way of dealing with his father’s death.  The only person he’s even honest around is Horatio.  To everyone else he presents a different face.  Hamlet is funniest when he’s with Polonius, Ophelia’s father.  He wordsmiths circles around Polonius using completely sound logic that sounds insane.  He sends Ophelia long letters but is a jerk to her face, part of what drives her to instability and suicide.  Ros and Guil get called in by the King and Queen to try to find out what’s bothering Hamlet.  Hamlet finds out and becomes insincere and evasive with Ros and Guil in an effort to thwart the King’s desires.     

Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead flips Hamlet so that the minor characters become major and vice versa.  The action follows Ros and Guil as they get called to Denmark to help the King and Queen to discover why Hamlet is acting so weird. They do everything they are asked to do, but still end up dead at the end.  

I only read an analytical summary of the play rather than reading the original, but it was really eye opening.  Death is a huge theme in the play, in particular the inability to accurately portray death onstage.  Guil ends up deciding that death is failing to reappear, so at the end Ros and Guil disappear off the stage instead of dying onstage like the players.  Fate versus chance is also a major theme, first shown in the unlikely coin toss at the beginning.  Is it chance that Ros gets over a hundred “heads” in a row, or is it fate?

Tom Stoppard did a fantastic job with Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead and the end result is a play I wouldn’t mind analyzing in detail.  I think I would do well to never have to read Hamlet again.  I’ll be looking at San Antonio Shakespeare Company to see what else they put on in the future.  And I’ll definitely try to get down to the Blue Star Arts district soon.  This just proves that San Antonio really is arts-friendly, you just have to know where to find it!


Amanda said...

I really enjoyed the play as well. Sometimes I don't like plays built on previous plays, but this one turned out well. I've avoided rereading Hamlet though...

Ann said...

After re-reading it, I wouldn't recommend another read to anyone! There are much better Shakespeare works out there!

The "Smoop" analysis of the R&GAD was really interesting. It's amazing how much stuff Stoppard put into it.