Members of the Austin College theatre program will present Tom Stoppard’s theatre classic, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, October 25 through 27, on campus in Ida Green Theatre of Ida Green Communication Center. Tickets, which may be purchased at the door, are $8 each for the general public, free with a valid Austin College ID, or $5 for students from other schools with presentation of their institution ID.
The title of Stoppard’s play is actually a quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In Hamlet, two men, supposedly old friends of Hamlet, are called upon by King Claudius to come to Elsinore to visit the prince and report back to Claudius on Hamlet’s behavior and any possible plans for revenge for his own father’s death at the hands of Claudius. The two lords, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, do so, and are caught up in the familial and political intrigue of the Danish court, eventually being enlisted to escort Hamlet to England carrying a letter that requests that the English king execute Hamlet. After Hamlet switches letters and disappears, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern continue on with a letter ordering their own deaths. In the last scene of Hamlet, ambassadors arrive at Elsinore with the news that “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.”
“Stoppard’s play takes a witty look at Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Hamlet, through the eyes of two of its minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,” explained Kathleen Campbell, Austin College professor of theatre and director of the production. In Stoppard’s play, the title characters struggle to discover their place in the world of Hamlet, a world that seems to operate by traditional laws of destiny and cause and effect, while their own immediate world appears to be one of randomness and chaos, she said. “Awakened by a messenger knocking on their door, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are called to Elsinore where they become embroiled in a world of political intrigue that they are ill equipped to understand,” Campbell said. “Along the way they meet a group of travelling players whose histrionics raise serious questions about the nature of art. Influenced by modern plays such as Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, and Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Stoppard welds serious idea and farce together into a fast-moving theatrical experience that deftly explores questions concerning life and art, fate and free will, and, ultimately, death.”
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is Campbell’s final directing project at Austin College; she will retire in May. The director said she thought a long time about what play to choose for her final production at Austin College. “Over the years, I have had the opportunity to direct or design a wide variety of plays, so I don’t have a lot of plays left on my wish list,” Campbell said. “I love all kinds of theatre, but my favorite plays have several things in common: exciting language, an emphasis on theatricality, and a blend of serious ideas with comedy. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead was already on my wish list, and it has all the characteristics I love.”
Campbell said the playwright sometimes describes his plays as “frivolity redeemed by seriousness” or alternately, “seriousness compromised by frivolity.” But, Campbell said, “Either way, he creates a highly theatrical blend of serious ideas with verbal and physical comedy.”
The director explained that she had directed Arcadia, a later play by Stoppard, several years ago, and loved the blend of the serious and the comical, as well as Stoppard’s brilliant language. “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is sometimes described as Hamlet meets Waiting for Godot for its blend of Shakespeare’s play with Beckett’s absurdist sensibility,” Campbell added. “In the last few years I had directed both Hamlet and Godot, both among my favorite plays and productions, so tackling Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead seemed a logical choice.”
The play’s title characters are brought to life by junior Cody Edwards of Eastland, Texas, as Rosencrantz, and senior Harrison Wilkie of Dallas, Texas, as Guildenstern. Senior Matthew Ervin of Austin, Texas, is The Player, and the Tragedians are played by freshman Nathan Johnson of Richmond, Virginia; junior Lizzy Lincoln of Round Rock, Texas; sophomore Julio Malave-Torres of The Colony, Texas; freshman Edgar Rodriguez of Odessa, Texas; and junior Stephanie Schultz of Whitewright, Texas. Other cast members are senior Nicholas Tanner of Sunnyvale, Texas, as Hamlet; junior Conner Skinner of Hallsville, Texas, as Claudius; sophomore Sarah Wilhelm of Arlington, Texas, as Gertrude; junior Jessica Pehrson of Rancho Santa Margarita, California, as Ophelia; and junior Alex Benningfield of Austin, Texas, as Polonius. The Court includes freshman Anissa Chilmeran of McKinney, Texas; freshman Greyson Sanders of Springfield, Ohio; freshman Michael Sistrunk of Dallas, Texas; and freshman Ryan Stoll of Fort Worth, Texas.
Set design was completed by Liz Banks, assistant professor of theatre at Austin College. Alumnus Jeff Mabray, Austin College Class of 1996, was the set designer for the first play Campbell directed at Austin College. The professional lighting designer has returned to campus to offer his services for Campbell’s final directing project. Costume design is by senior Ashley Jump of Garland, Texas, and junior Shelbi Hall of Dallas, Texas. Stage manager for the production is senior Jessica Shanks of Cedar Park, Texas; and sophomore Sarah Davis of Sherman, Texas; freshman Sarah Baskin of Tyler, Texas; and sophomore Suzanne Francis of Fort Worth, Texas, are assistant stage managers. Movement coordinator for the production is junior Dave Burford of Richardson, Texas, and sound coordinator is freshman Reed Allen Cook of Oswasso, Oklahoma. Property master is senior Kaitlin Forsman of Conroe, Texas, and technical director for the production and Ida Green Theatre is Ethan Koerner. House manager is senior Missy Lyttle of Austin, Texas.
Austin College is a leading national independent liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas. Founded in 1849, making it the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original charter and name, the college is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Recognized nationally for academic excellence in the areas of international education, pre-professional training, and leadership studies, Austin College is one of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives.