"It would be just like being asleep in a box. Not that I'd like to sleep in a box, mind you, not without any air — you'd wake up dead, for a start, and then where would you be? Apart from inside a box." So goes the existential banter in the absurdist comedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
It took about 350 years' worth of productions and parodies before British playwright Tom Stoppard took his shot at the unfolding madness that is Hamlet. The result, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, turned upside-down the well-known Shakespearean tragedy marked by death, turmoil and revenge gone awry. "I usually tell people it's played in the margins [of Hamlet]," says director and producer, Nancy Holaday. "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern don't know exactly who they are, and they're exploring the question of whether or not they are writing their own story."
Black Box Theatre adds one more layer of context, or complexity, to this unique equation: From Oct. 3 to 18, it will perform Shakespeare's tragedy on Fridays, and Stoppard's comedy on Saturdays. It marks the first time the local theater, which opened its doors in May 2013, has put on two major productions simultaneously, says Holaday, but the two scripts fit together so naturally that it seemed like a worthy challenge.
"Stoppard is so in love with words and does a lot of wordplay that's quick, clever and fun, but still meaningful," says Dan Kifer, 43, who will assume the role of Guildenstern. Stoppard even wonders where the characters live when not onstage, he adds. Basically, notes 24-year-old Dana Kjeldsen, who plays Hamlet in both plays, it's a behind-the-scenes examination of the intellectual, existential matters brought up by two "wing" characters in Shakespeare's tragedy.
Hamlet, of course, comes with its own requirement of verbal mastery. And Black Box ups the physical ante, too. Though the cast has been practicing with long sticks thus far, it aims to incorporate real steel blades into the production's final scene with the help of local choreographer and sword master Steve Perkins. ("Just a little bleeding, but nothing too serious," Kjeldsen jokes about reported injuries to date.)
When it comes to dress, both contemporary and Elizabethan-era costumes will be used to emphasize the timeless nature of the story, says Holaday. "You don't have to be from Shakespeare's time to know what it's like to be betrayed or to feel out of place."