Thursday, March 31, 2011

Above left--the original National Theatre production.
Above right, the New York premiere program. John Wood
played Guildenstern in New York, and he would become
the lead that Stoppard preferred for subsequent plays.

But there were new dimensions suggested by seeing the current College of the Redwoods production of R&G. As on the page, it’s still an “elsewhere in Elsinore” story while Hamlet is center stage. It’s still Samuel Beckett meets Beyond the Fringe (or perhaps Firesign Theatre—Stoppard was writing its prototype while in a traveling fellowship program with Firesign’s Peter Bergman.)

But on the stage it’s also Laurel and Hardy as scripted by Oscar Wilde. There’s the same fabled existential situation of two lost souls swept along in an indifferent world. But it occurred to me that there’s also a class aspect: they are powerless middle class gentlemen caught in the struggles of royals.

Not that this is necessarily the CR version’s viewpoint—it’s just a product of seeing live actors perform it. The mesmerizing words reveal structure and metaphor. These two characters are so gripped in the logic of fate, of formal tragedy, that time itself is disappearing, like an episode of Doctor Who (already a BBC hit in the 60s when Stoppard started writing for that TV network, around the time that R&G was first produced.)

In particular, the correspondences and refractions with the Players who entertain at Elsinore are more robust on stage than on the page. Rosencrantz and Gilderstern find themselves as trapped in their roles at court as actors in a play—which of course, they also are. They speculate that they could have refused the summons from the King, and they ruminate on decisions they could make, but in the end they are exactly like the Players—they have some latitude in what they play, but they are fated to be players at the beck and call of their patrons.

No comments: