By The Theatre Gay
Life can be confusing. Every day we are bombarded with stimuli from all directions. Life can be scary. Each moment we could suddenly and unexpectedly drop dead. Life is short. That goes without any explanation. But life is also beautiful, spectacular, unexpected and completely worth living. Especially if you’ve got a friend. And, despite the imminent death in the title, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Folger Theatre is all about celebrating life. And friendship.
“If you look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else,” the Player King tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. This idea is at the core of Ros and Guil are Dead. Rosencrantz and/or Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, are summoned to Elsinore for a mission. Unfortunately, they can’t remember why they are called for, or what they’re purpose is. Suddenly, characters like Hamlet, Ophelia, and Claudius rush the stage, embroiled in their own pathos. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two hapless victims to the plot of one of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. They try their best to understand what is happening to them, but their only guide, the Player King, proves to only be after one thing: his payment. Ros and Guil can only cling to each other and ride out their inevitable (and unknown to them) fate. And spoiler alert: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do die, but not after a journey beautifully told by a fine set of actors.
The bulk of this play falls on Rosencrantz, played by Romell Witherspoon, and Guildenstern, played by Adam Wesley Brown, and I know their names cause I read them in the program. Brown and Witherspoon started the play a bit rocky, but, to be honest, it’s a hard play to start. Almost immediately, Guildenstern launches into a philosophical soliloquy about chance. However, on the entrance of Ian Merrill Peakes as The Player, and his ensemble of Tragedians the play begins to gain momentum. Peakes stands out as the now dramatic, then dead-pan Player. His energy is contagious. Along with his Tragedians, he breathes life into the play about being offstage.
This isn’t to say the rest of the play is dead – just a bit dense in the first act. Brown and Witherspoon deliver some really beautiful speeches. Witherspoon, in particular, beautifully questions whether one would rather be alive in a box, or dead in one. And Brown’s description of life as a boat is quite poignant. However, what really brings out the best in these actors is each other. Their relationship is carefully crafted, and painstakingly honest. “I just wanted to make you happy,” Rosencrantz mentions to Guildenstern on their way to the gallows. I definitely welled up.
While very cerebral, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is still a great time, and a poignant piece about life and those you meet along the way. While some move in and out of your life with great frequency, those who stick with you, make the journey worth taking. And speaking of journey, make your way over to the Folger Theatre to see this play before it sets off. You won’t be sorry you missed it.