Contemporary Theater offers delightful "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern"

Fifty years ago, Tom Stoppard dug up two minor characters from Hamlet and gave them a full-length spotlight. His play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, is a masterpiece, and the Contemporary Theater Company has mounted a brilliant, agile production that matches the linguistic sparkle of Stoppard — and Shakespeare. Do yourself a favor, and go see it this weekend.

We first see Ros and Guil (as theatre folk sometimes refer to the characters) flipping a coin which always comes up heads. It's a deft introduction of one of the play's core themes, the challenge of living within a determined universe, inscribed either by a numinous playwright or the laws of nature. The action — which pinballs across genres like a mashup of Noises Off and Waiting for Godot — threads moments of Ros and Guil's contemplation of their predicament into and out of the action of Hamlet in what is by turns absurdist, farcical, and deeply introspective. It's a complex, multi-layered script.

The gender-blind cast is up to the challenge. Rebecca Magnotta's Rosencrantz has an endearing naivete that offers a perfect foil for Laura Kennedy's earnest, troubled Guildenstern. The pair's chemistry is deeply human, their presence powerful, and their rapid-fire interactions are a delight. The two carry the full weight of the two-plus-hour show, and they make it look effortless. These are two standout performances.

And the supporting cast provides uniformly wonderful, nuanced moments that wrap around Ros and Guil. Valerie Tarantino's turn as the lead player in the wandering group of actors is a precisely served feast of earthy world-weariness. Tammy Brown is such a good Hamlet that I found myself wanting to see her in that role for real. She has long been one of the stars of the CTC, and she offers a deep, wry Hamlet who crackles in her scenes with the hapless duo.

The stage is a long, linear thrust, which works exceedingly well both thematically and in making use of the CTC's space, lighting is crisp and effective, and the costuming is richly detailed.

Christopher Simpson's direction is stellar. He clearly understands the core of this show — no mean feat, given Stoppard's complexities — and has coached performances that illuminate the deep themes of autonomy, helplessness, and the possibilities of individual action in an incomprehensible world. His staging demonstrates a s ure command of theatrical conventions and the possibilities of space. And, most importantly, his precise focus on the lived reality of Ros and Guil keeps this from being just "absurdist," in some narrowly academic sense; we learn to care about this pair, we connect with and mourn them, and in so doing, we learn something about our own human predicament.

Go see it this weekend. Performances May 17-19 at Contemporary Theater Company, 327 Main Street, Wakefield, RI. Get tickets: or learn more at the 
CTC web site: