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Existential yucks with Stoppard, cruel intentions with LaBute
COMING INTO TOWN FOR A MAR. 18 SHOW AS PART OF the Patten Performances series at UTC is The Acting Company’s production of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead”. Stoppard wrote what could (and has) been described as an existential laugh fest about death in the mid-’60s, but the play has lost none of its punch.
Two minor characters in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, his friends from school, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, become the main characters in this play. They are onstage during the times when in “Hamlet” they are off, trying to figure out what in the heck is going on and where in the heck they are. (The title is, so to speak, a dead giveaway.)
Grant Fletcher Prewitt plays Rosencrantz in this version of the play, which is directed by Tony-award-winning director John Rando. He notes that he studied “R&G” for rhetoric when he was in grad school. “I was of course familiar with Stoppard’s work,” he says, “but opening the show in New York presented a unique challenge and I think at first I played it a little safe…being on tour has allowed us the freedom to dig a little deeper.”
Prewitt also played Rosencrantz in The Acting Company’s production of “Hamlet” so he’s now had an opportunity to look at the character from many angles. “I’ve realized exactly how cleverly Stoppard used ‘Hamlet’ as the source,” he says.
But he emphasizes audience members do not have to be Shakespearean scholars to enjoy “R&G”. For example, in both “Hamlet” and the Stoppard play, even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a hard time remembering which one is which, and that is just plain good comedy.
“It’s really fun as an actor,” Prewitt says. “They even confuse each other, and I look for mannerisms of his to copy, as he does with me.”
Audiences of today likely respond to the play somewhat differently than its initial ones did. “Treating death as if it is just the absence of space would have been very radical then…people did not really have those conversations. Now we do,” Prewitt says. “What I take away from it is that you have to enjoy life while it’s in front of you. It’s fleeting. But we make you laugh the entire time about it.”
Meanwhile, over in Brainerd at Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga, modern, controversial theatre is also front and center stage. Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig” depicts a young man, Tom, who falls for a woman society perceives as fat. He loves her as she is, but smacks up against the bigotry of the people around him.
LaBute is known for his often-brutal depictions of human cruelty in plays such as “In the Company of Men” and “The Shape of Things”, and director Garry Lee Posey notes that one of the challenges in doing his work is discovering “why the characters and situations are approached so harshly.”
For actors, trained to be emotionally sensitive, playing characters that “may be irredeemable” is difficult, Posey says. His cast has bonded while working with such material. “LaBute is known for identifying social buttons and holding his finger on them for longer than is comfortable, “ he says. “But as artists, we are burdened with holding up the mirror. And for passionate artists, plays like this hit home hard.”
Yet there are potentially important takeaways for audiences from “Fat Pig,” Posey says. “We’re all capable of hating things about ourselves. I think LaBute may well see part of himself in this play. I don’t know what each individual audience member will take from it, but I know we have grown from working on it.”
Guildenstern Are Dead”
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Mar. 18 only.
$24, $15 students.
UTC Fine Arts Center, Vine & Palmetto Sts. (423) 425-4371,
7:30 p.m. Fri/Sat, 2:30 Sun, Mar. 13-22.
$15, $10 students.
Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga, 5600 Brainerd Rd. in Eastgate Town Center. (423) 602-8640, ensembletheatreofchattanooga.com