The Kenyon College Dance and Dramatic Club presents “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” the absurdist comedy by Tom Stoppard, in the Bolton Theater on Thursday, Oct. 12, at 8 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 13, at 8:30 p.m; and Saturday, Oct. 14, at 2 and 8 p.m.
Equal parts humorous and ponderous, grave and irreverent, the play is a metatheatrical, intellectual vaudeville that hinges on nuance and dichotomy. Expect healthy doses of “tumbling, stage combat, mime, physical comedy and coin tricks” tempered by more grandiose questions of existentialism and reason, said director Jonathan Tazewell ’84 P’15, the Thomas S. Turgeon Professor of Drama.
The play follows the misadventures of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” who are inexplicably thrust into the spotlight. While the Danish prince plots to seize his uncle’s throne, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern desperately attempt to figure out where they are, who they are, and what, exactly, is going on.
Tazewell finds beauty in the play’s complexity. “It demands a real intellectual sense about things of the world — history, politics — and also language and the way in which we use language, and metaphors about existentialism and death and chance and fate. It’s packed with philosophy, but it is also presented in a very physical, comic way.”
Miles Shebar ’20 is Guildenstern, the more analytical and anxious of the pair. It has been a challenging role for the New York City native. “We don’t know that much about the character or the background [of Guildenstern]. It’s been a weird experience for me as an actor because you have a pretty solidly thought-out backstory for most characters you play, but not here,” Shebar said.
Henry Nash ’18, a drama major from Chicago, plays Rosencrantz, a pragmatic character who, unlike Guildenstern, is “content to come up with a workable answer.” Nash has enjoyed exploring the play’s marriage of theater and philosophy through the eyes of Rosencrantz. “It’s very much a fascinating, life-choice-affirming sort of play,” he says. “Our characters’ … existential questions feel sort of familiar.”
Tazewell’s production will pay special attention to the play’s titular paradox. “My question in reading and examining the play has to do with whether Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are caught in a time loop,” he said. “Is Stoppard telling us they are already dead at the beginning of the play?” He asserts that no question is too large — or too small — to be explored in Kenyon’s rendition of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”
As for the answers? Those are for the audience to decide.
Tickets for general admission are $7.50; for groups of 10 or more, $5. Tickets for seniors, non-Kenyon students and children under 12 are $4. Admission for Kenyon students is $2. To reserve tickets, call the box office (open 1 to 5 p.m. and one hour before each show) at 740-427-5546.
—Ben Hunkler ’20