Over the past 27 years, A Noise Within has built a reputation as one of the best repertory theaters in America, presenting top-notch and often innovative stagings of a broad array of classic plays. Some of Shakespeare’s greatest works have been among their most acclaimed productions, with such epic works as “King Lear,” “Hamlet” and “Henry V” among their finest hours.
On Sunday, Oct. 7, ANW will mount its second production of a play that turns the tragedy of “Hamlet” upside down and sideways by focusing on the comically existential misadventures of two of that play’s most minor characters, in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” The only rule that they are bound by is that they are destined to die by the end of the play, and the universe they are trapped in features coin flips that always come up heads and pirates that can pop-up anytime.
“They’re stuck in the middle of ‘Hamlet,’ two high-born Elizabethan characters who went to school with Hamlet who are trying to come to grips with the fact that they’re in the story beyond their control,” says Rafael Goldstein, who plays Guildenstern. “They never get there in terms of fully realizing that they are characters in a play. But they do realize that their actions, their fates, their own words at times are not their own. It is written and inexorable and it’s them trying to fight against that and assert their own individuality with varying degrees of success.”
In the play, Stoppard describes the two leads as “passing the time in a place of no name, character, population or significance,” and reveals Guildenstern to be the more intellectual of the pair. He scientifically analyzes the situation they are in, while Goldstein notes that Rosencrantz “is the more responsive one, reacting to the moment they’re in without thinking too much.”
“The play is a metaphor for our lives, from the time we’re born until we die, and the experience Rosencrantz and Guildenstern go through is really what we all go through,” says Geoff Elliott, who directs the production and co-founded ANW with his wife, Julia Rodriguez-Elliott. “The play is dealing with life — which is a heavy description, but keep in mind, it’s hilarious. Although it ends in their deaths, as we know from the title, getting there is an absolute hoot. At the end, it’s not so much sad as it is mysterious: a true and incredibly crafted work of genius.”
“Rosencrantz” began its life in 1964, as a one-act play called “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Meet King Lear” written for a writers’ conference in Berlin. The full-length play being produced by ANW premiered in performance at the world-renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival before being produced by the National Theatre at the Old Vic Theatre, making Stoppard the youngest playwright ever to have a play performed there.
“It’s a whole lot of fun, and I think what’s really been exciting for me in this process is I’ve done a lot of shows here as a resident artist, and many with Rafael, but we’ve never shared words on stage yet,” says Kasey Mahaffy, who plays Rosencrantz in the production. “Our characters were always passing by each other, and we always enjoyed each other’s work tremendously, so it’s really fun. This play is one of the most challenging things an actor can do , so I think it’s been a boon to have us be so close and things just jumped off from there.”
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” runs from Sunday, Oct. 7, through Nov. 18 at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. Tickets are $25 and up. Call (626) 356-3121 or visit anoisewithin.org.