Guildenstern: No, no, no... death is not. Death isn't. Take my meaning? Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can't not be on a boat.
Rosencrantz: I've frequently not been on boats.
Guildenstern: No, no... what you've been is not on boats.
I can't say why exactly, but Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead has been my favorite play since... college, maybe? I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that in prior lifetimes, I've taught multi-month units in English classes on Hamlet and Hamlet-derivatives, including R&G are Dead. Two summers, I taught entire courses on Hamlet and Hamlet-derivatives. Some of my friends can quote Monty Python or Star Wars or Big Lebowski verbatim-- my uber-geekout of choice is R&G are Dead.
Mostly it's because of lines like the ones above. "You can't not 'be' on a boat." Think about it. I'll give you a minute...
... right? I don't think I've gotten on a boat since my early 20's without thinking of that exchange.
It doesn't hurt that the movie version is effing brilliant as well (though not as good as the play, even though Stoppard-- the playwright-- directed the movie). Gary Oldman? Tim Roth? Richard Dreyfuss? That's a hubba hubba cast of theatrical greatness.
But here's the thing: I've never seen the play performed on stage! I know the darned thing backwards and forward. It is hands down, my favorite play of all time. But I've never seen an actual production.
... and that's why I was THRILLED to see that the Louisville Repertory Company is producing the play from Feb 3-13 at the Mex Theater in the Kentucky Center.
... and that's why I was shocked when I saw the poster for the show. Click on the link above. No really, go do it. *eyes bulge out like in a cartoon* Is this my favorite play? "The Original Mash-up"?? "A Pirate, a Unicorn, and Hamlet walk into a bar..." A jester with a clown nose? I'm super happy to see that someone revised the text that goes along with the calendar. I wish I'd saved the old text... the old description of the play made the play out to be a knee-slapping, side-splitting, screw-ball comedy. What?
Listen, this is just me getting all English teacher nerdy and proprietary about my favorite play. Yes, R&G are Dead is funny, but it's not a Three Stooges routine. These guys aren't clowns. It's an existentialist, absurdist tragicomedy... with really more emphasis on the tragic than the comic. It's a sad freakin' play. There's nothing clown-like about lines like: "Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occurred to you that you don't go on forever. Must have been shattering. Stamped into one's memory. And yet, I can't remember it. It never occurred to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it. Before we know that there are words. Out we come, bloodied and squawling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, theres only one direction. And time is its only measure. "
Just rips your heart out, doesn't it?
All this is just to say... go see this play. You might brush up on your Hamlet first; it really is much, much more impressive if you've got Hamlet fresh in your mind (Dagnabbit! I was going to suggest you rent the Mel Gibson version because it's really quite good for what it is. That, of course, was filmed before (we knew) he was a misogynist anti-semite arsehole. Sigh. Well, then, I recommend the Campbell Scott version. The movie itself is kind of a shitshow, but Campbell Scott does a stunning Danish Prince. Stunning. And it's Campbell Scott-- delicious!)
I'm trusting that the Louisville Repertory Company just put their poster design into the hands of someone who didn't "get" the play. I'm trusting that they don't plan to strip the tragic from the tragicomedy. I truly can't wait to see this. It's February 3-13 at 8pm with a 2pm matinée on the 13th. Tickets are $10-15. Cheap indeed for having your mind blown by Stoppard's brilliance.