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Wednesday, January 18,2012

The play’s the thing

Riverwalk makes a noble stab at Stoddard, but the long-winded script defeats the capable cast

by Tom Helma

He takes a mighty whack at it: Riverwalk’s émigré from Russia, Leo Poroshin, directing “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” One can imagine him crumpling up pages of Tom Stoddard’s unwieldy, overly long script, then unfolding the pages and trying again and again and then yet again to make it work.

He is aided in this herculean effort by two of Lansing’s finest young male actors in the title roles, and by his costume designer, Brittney Benjamin, who dresses the “tragedians” as a cast of Cirque de Solei Fellini film refugees.

Set designer Alina Poroshina dazzles with vibrant vermillion panels of Asian bonsai and bamboo. There are times, however, when all of a director’s actors — and two good designing women — cannot pull a tedious script together.

Stoddard’s piece suffers primarily from being nothing more than a faux-outtake from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” a questionably clever idea to begin with, and essentially an empty experience to observe.

Joe Dickson, as the good-hearted Guildenstern, is the more affable of the title characters, an ordinary, average, everyday kind of guy, a little like the lovable family dog, while Justin Brewer as Rosencrantz is both more analytical and detached.

The chemistry works, as they bounce off each other with a mindless, seemingly purposeful pointlessness, loose associations and oblique conversations worthy of the world’s two most lost souls. Where are they going, what are they seeking, how will they end up — why will we care?

Occasionally they are funny, and when we care for them, it’s because we do understand their disorientation to person and place.

Those who excessively celebrate everything remotely Shakespearean, of course, eat this up, the post-modern God-is-dead era nihilistic idea that  life,  all life, on stage and off stage, has a beginning and an end and has only what meaning we bring to the moment.

Aha? Meh! Been there, thought that. Can we go home yet?

A subtext of the plot, near the end of Act II, brings someone else out on the stage to rescue these two stalwart journeymen from themselves and the confines of the script.

Mark Gmazel is “the player,” heading up a road show of tragedians. Gmazel is furiously and outrageously flamboyant, getting many laughs, while Brian Kardell, Angela Wright, Kayla Green and Scott Crandall melodramatically enact and re-enact falling-down death scenes that illustrate the existential theme of the play. Good job, a worthy effort.

Various characters from “Hamlet” wander on the stage from time to time with hints of Denmark in their demeanor. Uh huh. 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s purposeless journey from beginning to end turns out to be merely to make a point about life being short: In the end, what, if anything,  really matters? A downer message on a cold January night.

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