'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead' ... but the play sparkles and delights

Amy Lisenbe/Nevada Appeal Carson High School students, Dakota Dutcher, center, and Elise Sala, right, act like puppets during the "dumb show," a short number before the play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," at a dress rehearsal Tuesday afternoon at the Carson City Community Center.

Amy Lisenbe/Nevada Appeal Carson High School students, Dakota Dutcher, center, and Elise Sala, right, act like puppets during the "dumb show," a short number before the play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," at a dress rehearsal Tuesday afternoon at the Carson City Community Center.

Carson High's drama leader Karen Chandler steps out boldly to direct Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," winner of both the Tony and New York Drama Critics Circle awards.

The two minimalist characters from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" ponder the meaning of reality and their own apparent death as they seek a kind balance between reality and insanity. Guess which wins.

"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" isn't your standard high school play. It isn't even a standard play. It may be Stoppard's version of "Hamlet."

It may be almost anything with its two lead characters constantly switching names and coming up with epiphanies about the world - or flipping a coin. What it is for sure is a slice of absorbing theater of the absurd.

It isn't all talk, as tumblers liven the stage.

Chandler has added a couple layers of ambiguity in this production of a play noted for its ambiguity. There are three sets of actors playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or R&G for short, and two Hamlets, all on stage at the same time, switching back and forth in dialogue. There's a male pair, a mixed pair and a female pair. Gertrude is also double cast.

It all comes out marvelously. This is extravagant theater of the absurd, to be relished - and it means something.

Chandler notes, "Most theater holds a mirror up to society ... in this existentialist piece, the questions deviate far from the norm. Our program's dedication to explore the physical theater while working through the process of character, conflict and denouement ... this has become quite a stimulating work, and yes, confusing."

R&G, who barely appear in "Hamlet" the play, are college pals of Hamlet. The players' troupe comes and goes; Prince Hamlet ambles through reading words, words, words; foul deeds are done; Hamlet is sent abroad, escapes death, and in turn Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find their "only exit is death" as they simply disappear.

R&G bicker constantly. They forget their names or switch names. They quarrel. They ignore one another. They agonize. They get nowhere. They flip coins to an eternal "heads."

In an added scene, the players and R&G meet in a kind of puppetry prologue, suggesting that all of them are no more than puppets. Or maybe not.

Now more than 40 years old, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" has been hailed as Stoppard's best work. He's seen Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," he's read every college literary wannabe's poem of emptiness "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and clearly he's read "Hamlet." They are all mixed together here is fascinating juxtaposition.

This is the most fascinating production the high school players have staged in recent memory. Take your seat on the back of the stage apron, settle back and let the verbal fireworks ignite. Don't try to put things in traditional order: Status quo, change, result. This is status quo and then liftoff. This theater should delight - and give birth to thought.

• Contact Sam Bauman at 881-1236 or sbauman@nevadaappeal.com.

If You Go

What: "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead"

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Jan. 25-26 with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday and Jan. 27

Where: Carson City Community Center, 851 E. William St.

Tickets: $8 for general admission, $6 for children and students (with a student body card) and $7 for seniors and students and are available at the door or at boxoffice@carson.K12.nv.us.

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