Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Ever since "Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead" strutted into our theatrical life, about a decade ago, it has been difficult to watch "Hamlet" without observing a brief moment of silence for the Rosencrantz and Guilderstern that Tom Stoppard extracted from the Shakespearean originals.
Stoppard breathed life into Shakespeare's two flunkies. Like us, they walk the line that separates power from powerlessness, individual autonomy from inexorable fate. They are as inquisitive as they are ignorant. They are supporting players given center stage - a situation that's very familiar to most of us.
In its production of "Rosencrantz and Guilderstern" at Trapier Theater, Shakespeare & Co. has given center stage to two actors who played supporting roles in the productions of "Hamlet" seen here last year. Eric Zwemer played Shakespeare's Rosencrantz at the Folger: he plays Stoppard's Rosencrantz at the Trapier. Frank Muller, the Trapier's Guilderstern, played Fortinbras in Arena Stage's "Hamlet."
The evening is a particularly triumph for Zwemer, Rosencrantz is the "empircist" of the pair; he accepts whatever happens without the soul-searching Guilderstern goes through. He gleefully sees the murky events at Elsinore as a big game. Zwemer prowls the stage, peeking into corners and around posts, scared but seduced by action and impatient with inaction. Like Stoppard's play, Zwemer's performance is an evening of precision groping. Muller's tongue is not as precise, but he has more to say. His eyes flit fiercely over the void, his shoulders sag with despair. The duo works well together.
Hugh Lester has directed with a keen eye and ear for both Stoppard's flashy repartee and for the more subtle probing of the unspoken moments.This is a brilliantly funny play, of course, but it's also darker and richer than most of Stoppard's work. Not only do surprises keep spilling out of Stoppard's mind, but his heart reaches into the theater in a manner missing from most of his recent work.
Jim Tibbetts has a spellbinding moment or two as the Player, but most of the cast is as purely functional as the title characters are in Shakespeare's version. Lester has designed a handsome but properly noncommittal set.
Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are alive.