Prof. Sehdev Kumar
TORONTO: What if you had a coin and it turned out to be ‘head’ in all of its 92 tosses? Unless the coin is blatantly loaded, it is not very likely. Is it? It defies all laws of probability. Yet, curiously, every time a coin is tossed, the outcome is completely independent of what happened earlier. Each is an unique event.
Tom Stopprad’s play ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ – currently being presented with aplomb by Soulpepper Theatre Company at Young Centre in Toronto – has toyed with many such tantalizing possibilities since it was first presented in 1966. Over the years, the play has achieved a certain classic status in league with Thomas Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’.
R & G are two minor characters in Shakespeare’s great tragedy ‘Hamlet’, but here, quite improbably, they are thrust centre-stage. If Hamlet, distraught by the murder of his father, mused “To be or not be”, in this play, R & G muse hesitantly and often eloquently, about the strange uncertainties of life, and how a turn here and a twist there opens a new pathway, or lead to a dead end.
Soulpepper’s two distinguished actors, Ted Dykstra and Jordan Pettle, play R & G like two seasoned tennis players; their quick repartee, ingenious display of ephemeral moods, their questionings of what is real and what is a mere shadow, or what is art and why is it, go back and forth like darts and volleys. Brilliantly directed by Joseph Ziegler, and uniformly well-acted, R & G is another jewel in this theatre company’s presentations in Toronto.
Theatre, it must be acknowledged, still continues to be a platform where serious and complex existential subjects can be presented that can initiate a thoughtful discussion. This is how, after the end of World War II, in which we witnessed new horrors and new absurdities, and new weapons of mass destruction, and in the wake of existential movement, there was a rise of the Theatre of the Absurd. In this theatre, many playwrights – Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Tom Stoppard – created characters that were numbed by the absurdity of life, and they fumbled to find some meaning in a world that seemed meaningless.
It is thus R & G stand out as a tribute to human longing for meaning in a world that seems – despite all its predictions and projections – uncertain and unexpected.
This play is a fine contribution to that eternal exploration.
The play continues at Young Centre until March 2.
(Prof. Sehdev Kumar lectures on International Cinema at the University of Toronto)