by Lynn on October 6, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following play was broadcast Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 FM. ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, at Hart House Theatre until Oct. 6.

Rose Palmieri was the host and producer.

1) Good Friday morning. It’s that time to find out what Lynn Slotkin, our Theatre critic and Passionate Playgoer has for us this week. Hi Lynn, what do you have?

I have a holdover from last week because this week was pretty empty except for the opening of SISTER ACT which opened last night and I couldn’t go.

But I’m going to talk about ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, by British Playwright, Tom Stoppard, that opened at Hart House Theatre last week and plays until this weekend.

This is early Stoppard—it first played at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1966. But it still has all the trademarks of Tom Stoppard’s work. There’s lots of word play, puns, linguistic gymnastics, wit, biting humour, satiric barbs. Stuff that has filled his plays and made us laugh for years.

2) What’s the story? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are minor characters in HAMLET. How to they factor here?

Yes they are minor characters in HAMLET, and leading characters in ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD. The title is a line from Hamlet.

In ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD the two characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bumble around philosophizing about the theory of chance—one throws a coin to the other and the catcher calls ‘heads’ and gets heads every single time. I think they get up to 70 tosses and 70 heads. It’s actually Guildenstern who is the philosopher.

He comments and philosophizes about every thing from a coin toss, to the state of the world, to their names, which they mix up, but shouldn’t. Rosencrantz is more a roly-poly, good-natured simpleton who is the foil for Guildenstern. They are mixed up in the intrigue of the Danish court although Hamlet plays a small part of it.

They observe what is going on but are such innocents that they don’t see the danger they are in. When they realize that they have been tricked and that they are to die and not Hamlet they are totally incapable of processing it. Much of the time they just stand around and wonder and examine the minutiae of posing and looking at questions from every angle, for no real reason.

There are strong echoes of WAITING FOR GODOT by Samuel Beckett.

3) How so?

In both plays the two main characters are innocents, who wait and philosophise while they wait. The world is enormous in both plays and these characters barely hold on, but they do endure. At least they endure in ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, until they are, well, dead.

They talk so long and seriously in Stoppard’s play about things that really don’t matter, that that’s some of the humour. The play is very clever but it’s maddening. It’s early Stoppard, and his quick mind and wit are there in abundance, but you get the feeling that
he’s showing off and it goes on and on.

I think a university community of students and faculty would get a charge out of, and of course audiences who love clever word play. It’s literate to be sure. It is a very difficult play to pull off, and to their credit, I think the folks at Hart House Theatre pulled it off.

4) How so?

Director Matthew Gorman has directed a crisp, clear production. There is definitely a difference between the two characters. As Rosencrantz, Jim Armstrong is the sillier of the two, a bit literal in his thinking and more endearing. As Guildenstern, Andrew Knowlton is the clean-cut philosopher, dealing with the winding sentences that go like a rollercoaster over extended thoughts, with style and clarity. This part is a killer and Knowlton nails it. Very impressive as were they both.

As Hamlet, Benjamin Muir is dashing in black leather, but could do better to talk louder and not drop his words. That’s a quibble.

It’s a good production. Stoppard is a challenge under the best of conditions. Hart House Theatre rose to the occasion.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s Blog at

ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD plays at Hart House Theatre until Oct. 6.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.