Clowns, Music and Old Hollywood Create Humor Out of Tragedy in Granada Artist’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at UC Davis
The UC Davis Department of Theatre & Dance presents Tom Stoppard’s absurdist comedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead from Nov. 17 to Dec. 3 in Main Theatre.
The production is the second and final work to be directed by fall Granada Artist-in-Residence Michael Barakiva at UC Davis. Barakiva previously directed the devised Sideshow Lab workshop The Zona Rosa Project.
The courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, star in Stoppard’s reimagining of the famous play. Moving throughout a surreal alternate reality, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead attempts to answer the fundamental question “How do we know what we know?”
“There are times when things make sense and there are times when you’re transported from one space to another and reality bends to accommodate desire or fear,” Barakiva notes. “We’re using Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Lorca’s traveling band of actors as inspiration,” he continues. “It’s somewhere between Shakespeare and Beckett.”
Barakiva said he’s taught the play and has found that the students appreciate its absurdist humor in the midst of tragedy.
“What all the students remarked on was that Stoppard took the source material of Hamlet, this tragedy, and made it into a very funny play.” Barakiva explains. “I tell them I think Hamlet is a very funny play too, but what you get to see in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is Stoppard’s homage to clowns and God and maybe he’s suggesting they’re similar things.”
Silent movie actors will inform the actors’ interpretations of the play’s clowns and Tragedians— non-speaking roles that portray the characters performing the film-within-the-play. Undergraduate dramatic art major Dan Cato Wilson, the show’s music director, composed three original songs for the Tragedians to perform on instruments ranging from banjo to violin.
Encouraged by Stoppard’s note that the action unfolds in “a place of no visible character,” Barakiva’s production will borrow from the visual aesthetic of black-and-white films and empty soundstages of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as traditional Elizabethan artistry.
UC Davis students in theatre will design the production: Master of Fine Arts candidates Maggie Chan, costumes, and Kourtney Lampedecchio, scenic; and undergraduate Avery Lincoln; lighting.
Chan’s costumes incorporate a mixture of traditional Elizabeth styles and old Hollywood fashion in shades of black, white and gray, with sparkling elements for added drama.
Lampedecchio said the set design, while minimalist, will contain a few surprises. One scene, for example, takes place on a ship, while another features a staircase on the side of the stage as though leftover from a movie set. In addition, the stage will extend out towards the audience, allowing the actors to get up close and personal with viewers.
“It will have a strong impact,” she says. “It may seem simple, but it’s not simplistic.
When you think about the concept of this being a dream world, we are in kind of a surreal place for most of the show, until we wake up from that dream. And there is definitely humor in elements of the design, not just in a farcical way, but in the surreal abstractions of this dream world.”
The ensemble cast includes UC Davis undergraduate and graduate students. Undergrad Mitchell VanLandingham will play Rosencrantz and Master of Fine Arts candidate Will Klundt will play Guildenstern.
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is one of my favorite plays,” says Gordon Meacham, a senior political science and dramatic art double-major who is playing the Ambassador. “I’m excited to see such a great play put on.”
Talkbacks with the director, UC Davis faculty and ensemble will be held after certain performances.
Michael Barakiva’s directing credits include the premieres of Wendy Wasserstein’s Welcome To My Rash and Third at Theatre J in Washington, D.C., the first workshop of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, UP by Bridget Carpenter at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and The Seagull by Anton Chekhov at the Blue Heron. He is the Resident Director of the Lake George Theater Lab and has directed readings or workshops at the Roundabout Theater, Arena Stage, Williamstown Theatre Festival, ACT, New York Theater Workshop, New Dramatists, Ars Nova and the Rattlestick Theater.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is produced by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. for permitted uses.
What: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, written by Tom Stoppard and directed by Granada Artist-in-Residence Michael Barakiva. Stoppard’s surrealist comedy uses the Hamlet characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to explore themes of knowledge and discovery.
Where: Main Theatre, Wright Hall, UC Davis
When: Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 17-19 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 20 at 2 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 1-3 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: General $17/19; students, children and seniors $12/14
Purchase Tickets: 530.754.2787, or toll-free 866.754.2787 or http://tickets.mondaviarts.org