Baylor Theatre 2006: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead relies to a large

extent on the abilities of the two actors playing the title roles. They are on-stage for essentially the entire play, and for much of the play, they are alone on-stage. Even though the published play includes a lot of acting advice and stage direction, seeing the play performed live by good actors increases one’s understanding of the characters as well as of the play itself. I enjoyed reading the play because of its witty, intellectual, and self-referential style, but only through seeing it performed live did I really connect with the characters. The actors communicated well both the differences between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, while also not losing their essential oneness (e.g., they themselves are confused over their names, neither can begin anything unless both do, etc). When reading the play, I gathered that Guildenstern was the more philosophical of the two, while Rosencrantz was the more childlike, but it threw me off in the second half when Rosencrantz started asking more questions and being philosophical. In the first act, the actor playing Guildenstern spoke relatively quickly, with a lot of force. During the coin toss game, he walked back and forth in agitation, really wanting to make sense of the anomalous string of coins landing on heads, confident that if he just worked it through logically, he would eventually come to an explanation. Rosencrantz, meanwhile, just sat and accepted the phenomenon complacently. Once Rosencrantz started talking, it became clear that he does question things, but he largely accepts whatever explanation he makes up for himself—non-sequitor or nonsense though it may be. Rosencrantz is interested only in an answer that will satisfy himself, while Guildenstern wants to know the objective reality. I did not get that distinction from reading the play, and indeed, while reading the second half, I felt as though Stoppard had stopped trying to differentiate the characters and was using them interchangeably for his own wit and wordplay.

But even in the second half of the performance, the two actors kept up the body language and speech style that they had established in the coin toss scene, conveying that even though Rosencrantz does take a more central speaking role in the second half, especially in his discussions of death, he is still more interested in how things affect him than in their cosmological significance. The movement of the play from Guildenstern in the first half to Rosencrantz in the second half also parallels the increasing absurdity of the situation in which the two find themselves, since Guildenstern represents a desire for order and meaning that is less and less relevant in their upside down world. This movement is also visible in the written play, of course, but it is more noticeable on stage. The ending was very effective on stage, much more so than merely on the page. Throughout, Rosencrantz’s outcries against their situation have been rather like the self-focused complaints of a petulant child, while Guildenstern continues to try to explain the situation rationally. After Guildenstern “kills” the Player and even that turns out to have been false, he basically goes catatonic. He stands over by the edge of the stage, silent and staring, totally demoralized by his inability to impose meaning even by such violent, drastic measures. Meanwhile, Rosencrantz embraces the absurdity of his own death, accepting it as a relief; as played by the actor, this is a natural outgrowth of his character—he may complain about circumstances he does not like, but he is perfectly fine with them after he rationalizes them to himself through whatever nonsense is necessary. Guildenstern, not as susceptible to nonsense, must be pushed all the way over the edge before he accepts his death. Though it is perhaps possible to feel detached from the characters while reading the play simply because Stoppard’s wit is more noticeable than any pathos, it was not possible to avoid sympathizing with a Rosencrantz as lovable as this one was throughout the play and a Guildenstern as broken as this one by the end.