Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, September 7, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
From left, Josh Thigpen, Andy Utech, Lisa Niemczura, and
Denise White rotate the lead roles in "Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern." Utech has a coin over one eye.

Tragedy can be so very funny

By Stephanie Kendrick


THE two main characters die. The whole nature of reality is called into question. The action takes place within one of the greatest tragedies ever written.

And it's funny -- laugh-out-loud funny.

In "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," the play that made British playwright Tom Stoppard famous 30 years before sharing an Academy Award for the screenplay of "Shakespeare in Love," two-bit characters from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" are made the center of the play.

If you have not read or seen "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," try to imagine Samuel Beckett working with the Three Stooges, or, in this case, two stooges.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are friends of Hamlet summoned by the king and queen to find out what the prince knows and whether he's going to get over the mourning-for-dad bit that's getting on their nerves.

Turns out, he knows uncle's a murderer and he's not going to get over it.

So the two stooges are assigned the task of escorting Hamlet to his execution. But it doesn't work out that way. They wind up dead instead.


Bullet On stage: 8 p.m. tomorrow through Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
Bullet Place: Ernst Lab Theatre, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Bullet Tickets: $8 general; $6 for students, seniors, military, UH faculty and staff; $3 UH-Manoa students; available at Kennedy Center Box Office
Bullet Call: 956-7655

Shakespeare was a master of theatrical convention, frequently employing devices like mistaken identity and word play.

Stoppard, one of Shakespeare's greatest fans, also uses the tricks of the stage to charm audiences and tell a story.

Hannah Schauer Galli is following in these distinguished footsteps and dancing a jig the whole way.

Galli is directing Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" for the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's Ernst Lab Theatre. Tickets go on sale today and the show runs tomorrow through Sunday.

As director, Galli adds a theatrical device of her own to Stoppard's work that is so effective it's a wonder the playwright didn't think of it himself.

Galli was drawn to Stoppard's play because, though he makes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern the center of the story, they are never more than character sketches.

"We don't know anything about them, to the point where they are interchangeable," she said.

And what better way to emphasize that than to have four actors play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in constant rotation?

Most of the switches take place when another character comes to the stage, but in long stretches when that doesn't happen, switches are made at points of confusion in the dialog between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In practice, it isn't nearly as confusing as it sounds and Galli is confident the audience will be able to follow along.

"I would certainly hope they get it," said Galli, who keeps a test audience in mind while she works.

"My mom, if she came to see it, would get what was deep about it," she said. "My dad would think it was funny and within a few minutes wouldn't care what I was trying to do with the four actors."

Her parents are in Louisiana and will not be able to see the play, but at a recent rehearsal, the device added to both the existential angst of the piece and the comedy.

Galli gained some insight into what drew Stoppard to write "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," through reading interviews with him.

"He finds it so interesting that there are these two characters on stage who have no idea why they are going to die," she said.

But in Stoppard's play, unlike in "Hamlet," Rosencrantz and Guildenstern know they are going to die. They don't know why, but they are increasingly resigned to the fact that there's nothing they can do about it.

After all, if the coin is written to come up heads, it's going to come up heads and that's all there is to it. All you can do is laugh.

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