‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’ at ACT
Bill Powell, director for Alpena Civic Theatre’s latest production, remembers the first play he ever saw. A college student at the time, he walked into a performance of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” and immediately became hooked.
“After I saw it, I thought it was just marvelous,” said Powell. “This was a bright shining moment that showed you can really do something this good on stage. It was interesting and engaging but funny all at the same time.”
When ACT planned out it’s current season, he decided to step forward and direct this long-time personal favorite.
“I think the world of this play. I’ve always enjoyed watching it,” he said. “I’ve heard it’s been said it’s the funniest play about death ever written.”
The show opens next week at ACT and will run for two weeks.
Considered an absurdist, existential, tragicomedy, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” expands upon the exploits of two minor characters from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The action of Stoppard’s play takes place mainly “in the wings” of Shakespeare’s famous work, with brief appearances of 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 on stage.
Written in 1964, the play originally was published in 1967 and played on Broadway in 1968, where it won the Tony for best play. It’s essentially a re-interpretation of Shakespeare from the point of view of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, a Laurel-and-Hardy pair who are totally incidental to the action of “Hamlet.”
Powell assembled a cast of 14 for the show, with Nick Hartman and Ryan Heath assuming the title roles. Joe Rybarczyk appears as the other major character, The Player, who is a trickster existing outside the play to make interesting comments about what’s happening.
Also appearing on stage are Thomas Jore, William Shultz, Logan Den Bleyker, Garrett Flanner, Ted Rockwell, Josh Gougeon, Natalie Dozier, Rick Mesler, Amanda Hulsey, Bruce Michaud and Kalvin Shiemke.
“There’s some wonderful local talent involved,” said Powell, adding that he is pleased to have been able to utilize some of the high school students in various roles.
As director, he’s dealt with some challenges along the way: “There have been a few challenges. From the time we auditioned and had a full cast, we’ve had about five people who had to drop out due to surgery or family issues. So we had to replace people or change things.”
The other challenge Powell said he faced was how best to make a show heavy with dialogue engaging to audiences.
“One of the things I had to strive to do as director was, if you are not really paying attention, you could just make it two guys on stage talking,” he said. “To make it more engaging, I used more interesting blocking.”
Powell also focused heavily on the comedic elements in the script and worked to bring those elements to the forefront.
People not familiar with “Hamlet” should still find it entertaining. Powell suggests that those who want to catch all the subtleties in the script google “Hamlet” ahead of time and read a plot summary to get up to speed.
Even though it’s been many years since he first became enthralled with “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,” he remains just as taken by it.
“The dialogue in this thing was incredibly well-written,” Powell said. “It’s amazing to me this was Stoppard’s first play. This was his break through. I just love reading it over and over.”
In addition to Powell, a number of other key ACT production team members have helped get the production ready for next week’s opening. They include Carol Rundell and Doug Niergarth as assistant directors; Denelle Shultz as stage manager/prop mistress; Jay Kettler as lighting designer; Grace Morris as set designer, Andrew MacNeill as sound designer; James Shultz as sound and light technician; Virginia Hulsey as costume coordinator; and MaryAnn Crawford, Marilyn Kettler, Laura Kolar and Suni Travis as costume designers.
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” runs May 10-13 and May 17-20 with show times at 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call the ACT box office at 354-3624.