The Stark Raving Sane Tour has been "at home" in Staunton this month doing the American Shakespeare Center's production of A Christmas Carol (which is in its final performance as I write this post). With that run ending, it's time for them to hit the road again. But before they go, they gave "sneak peek" performances of the three shows they're doing on tour, and that they're bringing back to Staunton for a two-month run April-May. We also got a preview back in September. Then I was able to see only Hamlet, which I thought was very good. I missed Hamlet this weekend, and I won't make it to A Commedy of Errors tonight, but I did not want to miss Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, a play that I read back in high school, when it was still new, and Stoppard was barely known in the U.S. (Or maybe he was. I was in high school in Peoria, Illinois, so I hadn't heard of anyone.)
I was blown away by the play back then, and it has remained one of my favorites (contributing to my choice of Stoppard's Jumpers as the subject for a major paper in graduate school). Now, I can't say that the performance I saw last night was the most polished piece of theater I've ever seen. A little rust, perhaps? No matter, though, it was still completely enjoyable, very funny, and painfully thought provoking. I'll definitely see it again when it comes back in April, and I suspect it will be sharper then.
The story, of course, centers on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, minor characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet. I love the idea of the company doing both Hamlet and this play, using the same actors to play the same parts in the two plays, and in April I intend to see the shows together, on the same day if possible (I'm sure that's possible--opening weekend is scheduled that way.) And so, much depends on the actors playing those two roles. Both Rick Blunt, as Rosencrantz, and Ginna Hoben, as Guildenstern, do fine jobs. No offense to Blunt, but he makes a very believable dolt, and his comic timing is superb. Hoben, too, can be very funny, and she does well with the more thoughtful side of Guildenstern, who frequently waxes philosophical. And although we know that Guildenstern is a man, it is easy to overlook that Hoben is obviously a woman--a fact that no attempt is made to disguise, as is often done when women play men in the Shakespeare plays the company does--because it just isn't important to the words. In any case, the words here are the stars of the show, and these two actors do a great job of delivering them. I love the words--it's why Stoppard is a joy to read as well as to watch.
So the play is good fun, and everyone should go see it when it returns in April!