Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Soulpepper’s current production of the Tom Stoppard classic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a brilliant tour de force featuring a flawless ensemble superbly directed by Joseph Zeigler. Taking on Stoppard’s postmodern musings on two neglected characters from Shakespeare, as well as the playwright’s relentlessly quirky and hilarious sense of wordplay in one swell foop, is a formidable task at the best of time’s. In the
 hands of Jordan Pettle and Ted Dykstra the two tile characters come alive with the tragi-comic grace of a nostalgic, savvy duo reminiscent of everyone from Burns and Allen, Wayne and Schuster, Rowan and Martin, Lily Tomlin and Goldie Hawn.

Pettle’s Guildenstern acts as a direct, subtle and charming straight man to Dykstra’s virtuosic breakneck quippage as the delightfully anxious Rosencrantz. Zeigler has taken care not to fill the stage with too many off the wall funnymen in order to strike a delicate balance that brings forward the philosophic nuances of plays within plays, audience reception, fourth wall demolition, and the existentialist plight of undermined under- developed characters. Shakespeare’s originals have always been a bit of a blur in the Danish disaster starring that forlon socio-pathic Prince Giblet. Stoppard gives them full-blown inter-active roles as fleshed out minions in a zany plot of their own design.

Standout performances by William Webster as Polonious and Kenneth Walsh as the lead Player add an eloquent inter-generational touch to the ensemble and reveals their immense, layered skill for lending high energy thespian fanfare and impeccable characterization to supporting roles. Walsh’s Player is especially complex and vocally tiered as he moves the theatrics forward with direct and powerful finesse. Webster’s Polonius has some delightfully shrieky moments that offer up superb contrast as the onstage activities begin to unravel in relation to the bard’s intensely dysfunctionalfamilial plot line.

Featuring musical enhancement and evocative sound design by Mike Ross, with spare elegant sets and costumes by Dana Osborne, in the midst of beautifully nuanced in-the- round lighting by Kevn Lamotte, this is a wonderful production of an endlessly entertaining and thought provoking play.

currently running at the Young Centre (Distillery District) through March

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