The Wilbury Theatre Group's current show is "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" by Tom Stoppard. This play expands upon the exploits of two minor characters from Shakespeare's "Hamlet." Written in 1967 the title characters are the leads and Hamlet, himself has a smaller part. The two characters brought into being within the puzzling universe of the play, by an act of the playwright's creation, and those they encounter, often confuse their names, as they have interchangeable yet periodically unique identities. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are portrayed as two clowns, fools who are in a world beyond their understanding. They can't identify any reliable feature of the significance in words or events because their own memories aren't reliable or complete. They misunderstand each other constantly as they stumble through their philosophical arguments where they often state deep truths during their nonsensical ramblings. However they depart from these ideas as quickly as they come to them and at times one appears more intelligent than the other but this position is changed back and forth during the show. After they witness a performance of "Murder of Gonzago", they take a boat trip to England with the Player and his acting troupe where they are ambushed by pirates, lose their prisoner, Hamlet and eventually resign themselves to their fate. Director Josh Short infuses his performers with high energy and elicits some comic and bawdy performances that enthrall the audience all night long.
He blocks the show wonderfully, using the whole theater for entrances and exits. He keeps the show in constant motion with excellent pacing, utilizes inventive seating of the audience, and uses live music to enliven the proceedings. He makes the show understandable to the audience. This is the first time I have reviewed Josh as a director, having first reviewed him as an actor in "Fat Pig" at URI in 2006. Delivering superb performances are Josh Andrews as Rosencrantz and Patrick Saunders as Guildenstern who are onstage almost the whole time. They bring these two characters to life with strong line delivery with Patrick as the more astute character while Josh's character is more emotional and less on the ball intellectually. They have terrific onstage chemistry with each other. The other lead is David Tessier as The Player. He commands the stage in this role with his comic timing and delivery. Is the Player just funny or is there something more crafty and sinister behind his comic antics? I first met David when he was playing Doody in "Grease" back in 1988 and he has been honing his craft as a vocalist and actor since then with spectacular results in this stunning role. His powerhouse delivery and comic antics as he runs hither and yon with his acting troupe performing death scenes over and over again with hilarious results.
Other talented performers round out the ensemble as the Tragedians. Nile Hawver is topnotch as the moody, Hamlet while Melissa Penick wonderfully plays his long suffering mother, Gertrude. Cory Crew plays the crafty Claudius and the terrific Julia Bartoletti plays Ophelia and also displays her vocal prowess as she and David sing during the show. The expert musical direction is by Marc Kaplan. So for a splendid rendition of Stoppard's absurdist, existentialist play, be sure to catch "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" at the Wilbury Group. The combined talents of the directing and acting of this piece make it one of the must see shows of this winter season.