By Jeff Ritter
Tom Stoppard’s brilliant meta-play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” is difficult to explain to anyone who has never seen it nor Stoppard’s self-directed 1991 film starring Tim Roth, Gary Oldman and Richard Dreyfuss.
It’s a bit like the musical “Wicked,” where the story intersects, at times, with “The Wizard of Oz.” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are minor characters in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” most of which is taking place off stage, if indeed it’s taking place at all.
Robert Thibaut and Ted Drury are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, respectively, in the St. Louis Shakespeare presentation directed by Suki Peters. Like any classic comedic pairing, Thibaut and Drury have specific roles beyond their characters.
Drury is the straight man, making Guildenstern the more logical of the two, who looks for reason in their absurd scenario. Drury delivers his lines as a matter of fact, even though the facts never quite add up. Thibaut’s Rosencrantz is more demonstrative and more hysterical for it.
Thibaut’s facial expressions and physical mannerisms reminded me of Martin Freeman or Tim Conway, often getting strong audience reactions without saying anything at all. Both Drury and Thibaut deserve a lot of credit for making the heavy banter feel like a natural conversation.
Isaiah Di Lorenzo is sensational as The Player, the bizarre leader of the Tragedians (Joe “Alfred” Garner, Megan “Ambassador” Wiegert, Cliff “Horatio” Turner, Michael “Soldier” Pierce and “Genevieve “Lead Ukulele” Collins), a traveling troupe given to recreating gruesome death scenes.
Tall, lean, and devilishly mustachioed, Di Lorenzo instantly reminded me of Tim Curry. His flamboyant ruminations on theatre, the audience, love and death offer tantalizing clues as to what’s really going on, but the audience, much like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, may not always find the truth hidden in the absurdity of it all.
The rest of the cast consists of the “Hamlet” players: Scott McDonald as Hamlet, Eileen Engle as Ophelia, Nicholas Kelly as Claudius, Wendy Renée Greenwood as Gertrude, and Dan McGee as Polonius. It’s always a treat to see Kelly perform, and it was a letdown to see Engle, who recently played Hope Harcourt in New Line Theatre’s “Anything Goes,” do little more than pass through the set now and then.
Chuck Winning’s set design evokes a feeling that both freedom and danger could come from any direction. Meredith LaBounty’s costume designs are nicely sparse, allowing for quick additions like a shoulder drape to transform a Tragedian into an English ambassador. Ted Drury also serves as the sound designer, and his sound effects and music worked well throughout the show, abetted by Morgan Maul-Smith on the soundboard.
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” runs April 6 – 15, (with student matinees on April 12 – 13 at 10 a.m.) at the Ivory Theatre. For more information, visit www.stlshakespeare.org