SUDS’ Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Definitely Not Coming Up Tails
Words by Riley Treisman
The audience, murmuring and chattering, files into the dark space of the Cellar Theatre. A red velvet curtain hangs in the central doorway. On the ground in front of them, oblivious to their intrusion, one man tosses a coin to another, who flips it onto his hand, studies it, and files it away in a satchel, over and over. They are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and they Are Dead. Or Will Die. Or Have Already. Things aren’t as they seem, so it’s important to pay attention or you’ll be left in the dark: “kept intrigued without ever quite being enlightened,” in the play’s own words.
Max Peacock and Dani Maher, bringing life to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, respectively, are the backbone of the play. The audience spends the most time with these two characters, often provided with little more than stubborn silence and sullen scowls. Chemistry is crucial, but the pair work perfectly together, the straight-spined Maher’s curt delivery complemented by Peacock’s fluid posture and childish ignorance. Jasmine Cavanough, deserving a Tony Award simply for getting around in knee-high red stilettos, gives a spellbinding performance as The Player, the kind of person we gravitate towards even while knowing we shouldn’t. Her troupe of Tragedians offer sweet bursts of humour as we pause from digesting the philosophy-laden prose. Their costumes, antithetical to the protagonists’ dark suit jackets and trousers, add to the spectacle, a vibrant jumble of corsets, masks, feather boas, riding crops and gaudy makeup that capture the eye as they cavort across the stage.
It’s greatly satisfying to see such seamless integration of space, sound, staging, lighting and costume. Tackling the classic in all its existential, absurdist glory, the cast, under the careful direction of Jess Zlotnick, takes the rapid-fire dialogue, tongue-twisting spiels and vaguely-worded stage directions in their stride with grace, gusto and only the most minor of stumbles. As lighting designer Lincoln Gidney tells me during intermission, there are approximately 145 lighting cues and 80 sound cues, and many sound effects are randomly generated, fitting for a play in which themes of chance and destiny take precedence. The result is not so much a play as a well-oiled machine, where dimmed lights and musical motifs are just as important as performances.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead isn’t for everyone. The crew have taken a risk in combining its original three acts into two, the first half lasting over ninety minutes. In an age of instantaneous communication and rapid information at our fingertips, the play’s blatant denial of logic and order may be frustrating, and you may find your mind wandering. But if you are brave enough to truly forget yourself, to focus on the words of characters and the gaps between them, their costumes, movements and facial expressions, and listen for the faint ringing of prayer bowls or distant tunes, you’ll find yourself wondering if you, too, might be waiting in the wings of someone else’s story.
SUDS Presents: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
(1st-4th of August // 8th-11th of August)