Seattle Public Theatre’s “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” by Tom Stoppard

Stoppard writes for an audience that enjoys intellectual challenges and philosophical conundrums. Like Becket, he frolics with the absurdities of life, and he’s at his game in this theatrical work in which two minor characters in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” have become the bewildered stars of the piece. Like so many of us, they are dupes in a world they just don’t understand. But be warned it’s a difficult play and, if you’re not already familiar with it, you might like it more if you read a synopsis before attending.

Various cast members of “Hamlet” appear before Rosencrantz and Guildenstern spouting the Bard’s own lines. That simply increases their inability to make sense of anything. These are two characters in an incomprehensible social world, characters who are doomed to die without ever finding enlightenment And the brilliant Stoppard has wrapped this challenging package in humor. Yes, it’s a very funny play.

In this production directed by Shana Bestock the title roles are played by Angela DiMarco and Alyssa Keene rather than by two men as is usual. And you know what? It works. As DiMarco and Keene perform it, gender is never an issue. What’s more important is their ability to play the fools yet deliver Stoppard’s penetrating insights on the human condition in a manner that can’t be ignored.

In wonderful contrast to these dull stooges with their faulty memories and inability to even remember which of them is Rosencrantz and which Guildenstern, is Heather Hawkins as leader of the band of traveling actors in “Hamlet”. She was a marvelous choice for the role. With her flaming mass of generous red curls, her flamboyant costume and personality she lights up the stage. It’s an interesting part designed to be the antithesis of the gray suited, subdued two leads who consistently remind us that uncertainty is the normal state.

Through Feb. 19 by Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse Theater on Green Lake. (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheater.org).

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