Playwright Tom Stoppard’s worldview half a century ago and William Shakespeare’s 14th-century perspective of human nature are uncannily similar to the “turned upside down, inside out” state of affairs in the 21st century, says Gwen Overland, director of Camelot Theatre’s production of Stoppard’s classic tragicomedy “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead.”
Overland draws a parallel between the lost-at-sea misadventures of Hamlet’s traitorous chums and contemporary Puerto Ricans, who in the wake of natural disasters and political corruption live in a topsy-turvy world, she says.
“They’re all in this crazy situation called life, fighting to keep hope alive when all around them is crumbling,” Overland says. “Hope, humor and imagination have to come to the rescue.”
“Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” previews Thursday, Oct. 25, opens Friday, Oct. 26, and runs through Nov. 11 at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave, Talent. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 for the preview; $27 to $34 for all other performances. A performance to benefit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Rising project will be on Wednesday, Oct. 31. Tickets are $25.
Stoppard, the Oscar-winning author of “Shakespeare in Love,” wrote “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” as a comic turnabout of Shakespeare’s tale of the tragic Prince Hamlet.
After premiering at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1966 and performances in London, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” moved to Broadway in 1967. It was nominated for eight Tony Awards, and won four: Best Play, Scenic and Costume Design, and Producer. The play also won Best Play from the New York Drama Critics Circle in 1968, and Outstanding Production from the Outer Critics Circle in 1969.
In Camelot’s production, Rosencrantz (played by Erny Rosales) and Guildenstern (Alex Boyles) go from minor characters in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” to major players who plot against the Danish prince, and then get caught at their own game.
“That’s the tragedy,” Overland says.
Hamlet (Elliot Anderson) and a troupe from the royal court join the pair as they sail toward England and an unexpected twist of fate.
As the pair muses about free will and accountability, and wonder how to stay the course when all seems hopeless, Stoppard’s comic wit, whimsy, wordplay and slapstick provide a clue, Overland says.
“There’s a sense of community as these two guys stick together through thick and thin, mostly thick,” she says.
Overland says humor kept her from falling into “a sinkhole” as she watched endless natural disasters — wildfires, hurricanes and tropical storms — wipe out people’s homes. Their safety and security lost by encroaching smoke and flames or washed away by floods, she says she felt helpless.
Puerto Rico’s plight after Hurricane Maria hit her the hardest, Overland says.
“Where’s the accountability?” she asks. “How do you deal with the disenfranchisement? How do you move forward?”
Added to that feeling of desperation, she says, was the sense that “everything ecologically, politically and morally has been turned upside down, inside out.”
In recent events, she sees the same “fraying of moral fiber” as witnessed in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.”
“We’ve lost our bearings,” she says. “Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, we often neither remember what it is we’re supposed to do, nor how we can find our way back home.”
Despite tragic circumstances, there are comedic situations, she adds.
“The play is after all a comedy, albeit dark, but a comedy nonetheless.”
Overland’s compassion for Puerto Rico and passion for all things Latin add the light.
“I am an aficionado of Latino music, so we’ve added music with a Puerto Rican flair,” she says.
Scenes celebrate the Puerto Rican culture of good food, good music and family, she adds. Some of the dialogue is delivered in Spanglish.
The thematic values of play — such as friendship, community, joyful expression of hard work and easy play, and most of all, “living in the hope that the struggle even in and of itself is meaning enough to sustain one’s soul” — is reflected in the Puerto Ricans will to survive, Overland says.
“In spite of everything, they have a passion for living.”
In addition to the leads, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s” cast features Maxwell Bruhn as Polonius and Courtney Crawford as Ophelia, along with Haley Forsyth, Renee Hewitt, Zachary Horn, Megan Kirby, Jeff Mercer, Dylan Spooner and Zaq Wentworth.
Set design is by Nico Hewitt, costumes by Cherelle Guyton, lighting by Bart Grady and sound by Brian O’Connor.
Tammy Asnicar is a freelance writer living in Grants Pass. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.