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Two minor 'Hamlet' characters debut at HART

'Rosencrantz' engages with The Bard through visual cues, quotations

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: MICHAEL SPROLES - 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,' directed by Peter Stein, premieres at HART Theatre this Friday, May 27, at 7:30 p.m. and runs through June 19.Audiences can learn a thing or two about the incomprehensibility of the world, the difficulty of making meaningful choices and the relationship between life and the stage when they view HART Theatre’s production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” which premieres this Friday in Hillsboro.

The production, directed by Peter Stein, is an absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy written by playwright Tom Stoppard, and expands upon the exploits of two minor characters from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the courtiers Rosencrantz, played by Les Ico, and Guildenstern, played by Dan Krool.

The action of Stoppard’s play takes place mainly in the shadow of Shakespeare, with brief appearances by major characters from “Hamlet” who enact fragments of the original’s scenes. Between these episodes, the two protagonists voice their confusion at the progress of events occurring onstage without them in The Bard’s play.

“Stoppard has a lot of clever concepts in the play, and he plays around with plot,” said HART Theatre co-artistic director Paul Roder. “The play starts and stops in ways you don’t see coming.”

“Rosencrantz” actively engages with “Hamlet” through quotations and visual cues. Stoppard includes many of Hamlet’s most notable scenes in a way that casts them in a new light. For example, in the ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy — arguably the most famous portion of “Hamlet” — Hamlet’s monologue centers around mortality and whether or not he should kill himself.

Stoppard includes this scene in his play, but has it occur in the background, while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in the foreground, wonder whether to approach Hamlet. As Hamlet mulls over the idea of death, they decide that the time is perfect for a casual chat. This belief is deeply at odds with Hamlet’s actual state of mind, which the audience knows but the characters do not. Dramatic irony becomes one of the intriguing tools Stoppard employs in this production.

“It’s interesting to see the story from their point of view,” said Roder. “Action just sort of happens around them, and they’re drawn to it.”

Roder also commended the twists and the language in the play and noted that the production would be a good bookend to close out the HART’s season, which kicked off last year with “I Hate Hamlet.”

The troupe’s next season will debut in September with “Macbeth,” another Shakespeare production.

“The director, Stein, has a very strong vision,” said Roder.