The most exhilarating production of the 1999 Williamstown Theater Festival, Darko Tresnjak’s staging of Tom Stoppard’s career-launching 1966 “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” has now been re-created as a soaringly theatrical finale to the Long Wharf Theater’s 2000-01 mainstage season. It is fractionally less enthralling in a larger space and with a different Rosencrantz, but it is still great entertainment.
Jefferson Mays repeats his bantam-rooster Guil, the more articulate of the two mystified title characters stumbling through the outer limits of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” His performance is treasurable, never more so than when mothering his terminally dumb buddy Ros. New to the latter role, Frank Wood (“Side Man”) by no means lets the production down, but he does have a somewhat blurred delivery, which compromises the crispness of Stoppard’s dialogue. The rapport between Ros and Guil just isn’t there, though audience members who did not see Mays and Christopher Evan Welch in Williamstown may miss it less.
Another newcomer to the cast, Edward Hibbert, is just fine, tearing into the role of the Player with exactly the right moth-eaten flamboyance. Much of the Williamstown cast is back, and every bit as good, notably Jack Ferver as Alfred, David Hornsby (Hamlet), Thomas Schall (Claudius), Sandra Shipley (Gertrude) and Gregor Paslawsky (Polonius).
They all hurl themselves into Tresnjak’s fray with glee, especially when the director spoofs the scenes taken from “Hamlet” (Hornsby’s blond, giggly, boyish Hamlet recites “To be or not to be” as he munches on a Danish pastry).
Some may feel that this is going too far, but it is entirely in keeping with Stoppard’s burlesque approach to Ros and Guil and their skewed view of “Hamlet,” which Tresnjak presents as an ongoing comic soap opera. What is so wonderful about both the play and Tresnjak’s staging of it is that they are so gloriously and mutually theatrical.
Visually, the production is much as it was at Williamstown, though the set has been enlarged somewhat to fill the LWT stage. Oddly, the set attributed to Takeshi Kata in Williamstown is credited to David P. Gordon here, even though it seems basically unchanged. Linda Cho’s mostly black costumes are just right.