Starring Ted Dykstra, Jordan Pettle, Kenneth Welsh. Written by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Joseph Ziegler. Young Centre for the Performing Arts, to March 2.
Back in 1966, William Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett met at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and launched the brilliant career of a young playwright. That playwright was Tom Stoppard, whose first major work, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead—a Beckettian tragicomedy about the minor characters in Hamlet—has since become an absurdist classic. Soulpepper’s scintillating revival is a reminder of just how witty and nimble-minded Stoppard’s writing was from the outset.
In Stoppard’s three-act play, the doomed courtiers of the title become an existential comedy team. Hapless pawns in a game they can’t get a handle on, they hang about on the periphery of Hamlet’s story, trying to figure out their roles in his tragedy. “We’re out of our depth!” cries Rosencrantz at one point—or is it Guildenstern? The two aren’t even certain of their identities.
As the clueless duo, Ted Dykstra and Jordan Pettle have a bubbling comic chemistry. Pettle’s small, sharp-nosed Guildenstern is the brainier of the two, but his metaphysical speculations only lead him in circles. He has a slow-witted foil in Dykstra’s big, curly-headed Rosencrantz—the popular actor makes free use of his clown side, earning laughs with his rubber-faced expressions. They’re well-matched by the other marginal characters, the hilariously woebegone theatrical troupe hired by Hamlet (Gregory Prest), whose crusty actor-manager is played with a zesty blend of cynicism and shabby grandeur by Kenneth Welsh. In Joseph Ziegler’s engrossing, in-the-round production, R. and G. seem stuck at an eerie crossroads in limbo, paralyzed by uncertainty. It’s both a terrifying and very funny place to be.