ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD by Tom Stoppard (Soulpepper/ Young Centre, 50 Tank House Lane). Runs to Mar 2. $51-68, stu $32. 416-866-8666. See Listings. Rating: NNN
You gotta love Soulpepper's mandate to revive classic works when the company mounts a play like Tom Stoppard's breakthrough absurdist piece.
Planting Shakespeare's very minor characters at its core, Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead charts the journey of two young men called to the court in Elsinore by the king to spy on his nephew Hamlet.
The duo are hopelessly lost, at the centre of events they can't control. They have no idea why they've been "chosen" or exactly what their mission entails. Along the way Stoppard comments on the nature of chance, the very human terror of death and, of course, the function of theatre itself.
Director Joseph Ziegler stages the play in the round - understandable, given its source material, but often, it's hard to hear some of Stoppard's deft dialogue.
His main misfire, however, is his decision to let Ted Dykstra play Rosencrantz as a buffoon. It creates fundamental problems with his connection to Guildenstern, expertly played with proper melancholy by Jordan Pettle.
It's not unusual for Rosencrantz to be portrayed as a man in a perpetual panic while Guildenstern is more philosophical in the face of uncertainty. The chemistry between the performers is definitely strong, but with Dykstra clowning around you have to wonder: Why is Guildenstern hanging out with such a fool?
And how can this goofy guy engage in - and even win - their hilarious game of questions, to say nothing of going through the logical machinations of figuring out our exactly what's bugging Hamlet?
This heady play's emotional core is elusive enough as it is. Getting the audience to care about the twosome, as a twosome, is crucial to the piece.
But Kenneth Welsh is excellent as the tragedian leading a troupe of players he's perfectly willing to pimp out - literally - and, as Polonius, William Webster blathers beautifully. Mike Ross's soundscape is another excellent element, ably evoking a sense of doom.
But the play's the thing, weaving the writer's intellectually exhilarating dialogue with scenes from the Bard, gently tweaked. Stoppard was obviously influenced by Waiting For Godot, but this is a wholly original work.
No wonder it made him famous.