- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2007

Feelings of deja vu turn quickly to moments of fresh delight in Studio Theatre’s revival of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” directed by Kirk Jackson, who brought stirring awe and wonder to America’s favorite pastime to his staging of “Take Me Out” a few seasons back.

Mr. Jackson’s production of Tom Stoppard’s brainiac existential comedy about two minor characters from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” waiting in the wings for all eternity lacks the transporting quality of “Take Me Out,” but it does share a masterful centerpiece performance by veteran actor Floyd King. His drollery, studied elegance and exquisite comic timing as the Player King make him born to play the role. Even in a tattered smoking jacket and the kind of smirky moustache favored by John Waters, he looks and acts like a million bucks.

The royalty-on-the-skids motif is further enhanced by Mr. King’s fantastic supporting cast of tragedians, a raggle-taggle, punkish traveling troupe who are not above the nudge-nudge, wink-wink to make ends meet. They know the classical repertoire as well as the old bump and grind, and these young actors (Theo Hadjimichael, Dan Istrate, Nick Stevens, Tim Leuke and especially Miles Butler as boy-actor Alfred, disturbingly alluring in a blond wig and evening gown accessorized by combat boots) bring supple originality and a decadent sense of knowing to the snippets of melodrama and rustic comedy they perform.

Mr. Istrate demonstrates the same physical specificity and disciplined movement shown in his work at Synetic Theater, and a gracefully effective swordfight with Mr. King is a high spot of the second act. The rest of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” ranges from brightly competent to the kind of community-theater-caliber acting you haven’t seen on 14th Street in decades.

As Rosencrantz, Raymond Bokhour rouses the ghost of Zero Mostel in his sad-eyed-clown posturing and stubborn naivete. Guildenstern (Liam Craig) plays the straight man to Mr. Bokhour’s baggy-pants comedian, a more philosophical soul acutely aware of the futility and aimlessness of their situation. Mr. Craig wears this burden lightly and is as buoyant as Mr. Stoppard’s tennis-volley-style wordplay, which combines sports metaphors with showy diatribes on rhetoric, linguistics and syllogisms of logic.

Yet the portrayals of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, with their echoes of Vladimir and Estragon from “Waiting for Godot” and other Beckettian flourishes, are so much what you’d expect that they are almost generic interpretations of the roles. You often find yourself waiting for Mr. King and his fellow tragedians to tumble back onstage and add a bit of liveliness to Daniel Conway’s concrete set, which looks like the facade of an anonymous government building.

What makes you want to avert your eyes are the shamefully inept excerpts from “Hamlet,” which are so amateurish you wonder why Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are so determined to become part of the action. These are situations any player, minor or major, would want to avoid.

Mr. King’s seasoned comic delicacy as the Player King and the arresting inventiveness of the tragedians are reason enough to attend “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” but the production overall seems to be a tried-and-true intellectual exercise in too many places, a show as airless and trapped as the main characters themselves. There’s a reason why Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are relegated to the eternal twilight of the greenroom — they lack the dramatic chops to stand in the spotlight.

***

WHAT: “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” by Tom Stoppard

WHERE: Studiio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Through June 24.

TICKETS: $39 to $55

PHONE: 202/332-3300

WEB SITE: www.studiotheatre.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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