By Michael Valdez
Tom Stoppard is one of the most celebrated and prolific British playwrights of the past 50 years, having written over 60 pieces for the stage, radio, and television since 1964. A disciple of the European theatrical canon, as well as a voracious reader of all things theological, political, vegetable and mineral, Stoppard uses subject matter ranging from Shakespeare to rock n’ roll as political resistance in Czechoslovakia, where he was born.
Stoppard’s family fled Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, and immigrated to England in 1946 by way of Singapore, Australia, and India. His world travels and experience of political upheaval permeate his work, which often addresses dense philosophical quandaries with light hearted wit and biting commentary. In the theatre, “Stoppardian” as an adjective has come to describe dialogue that provokes laughter and thought in the same breath. One of Stoppard’s earliest plays, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a comedy riddled with literary references, existential themes, and dramatic experimentation.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two of Hamlet’s school chums, brought to Elsinore by Claudius to spy on the young prince. All in all, they are only on stage for a couple of minutes, only to leave and be declared dead at the end of the play. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Stoppard puts the spotlight on these negligible characters and follows them offstage, where we find them at the top of the play. There, with trademark Stoppardian wit, they wait, argue, worry, and debate the inevitable, whatever that may be today. The dialogue in Stoppard’s adaptation is engaging and captivating to the point that it doesn’t matter much whether you are a Shakespeare aficionado or have wandered into the theatre for your first time, there’s something for you in this play.
Workshopped at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 1966, its official opening at London’s Old Vic in April 1967 propelled Stoppard to the spotlit center of the European theatre scene. From there, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead has lived many lives. From its opening in ‘66, it travelled to Broadway in ‘67 (where it was jubilantly revived in ‘87), reworked as a radio play in ‘78, and eventually helped to solidify the star status of Gary Oldman and Tim Roth as the titular characters in the 1990 film adaptation, giving Stoppard his only film directing credit. Most recently, in April, 2017, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead triumphantly returned to where it all began, the Old Vic, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Rosencrantz and Joshua McGuire as Guildenstern in a star-studded celebration of this hilarious and challenging work.
Michael Valdez (Dramaturg) is a second year MA Theatre Studies candidate and is ecstatic that his first FSU production is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. He received his BA in Theatre and Literature from New College of Florida, where he was a proud founding member of the Windmill Theatre Company. Select directing and dramaturgy credits include Howard Barker’s 13 Objects, Lucas Hnath’s nightnight, Caryl Churchill’s Softcops (Windmill Theater Company), and Arthur Feinsod’s adaptation of The Rainmaker (Crossroads Repertory).