Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead opens Oct. 21


With its usual passion, high-caliber acting, and diverse programming, Gallery Players opens its 69th season with Tom Stoppard’s best known work Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. On October 21 at 8:00 p.m. in the Roth/Resler Theater at the JCC, actors and community members alike take the stage to present the play inspired by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The dark comedy explores deep and important questions of the human condition through bright humor and biting wit.

Stoppard, a Czech-born Jewish British playwright, is recognized for his film screenplays such as Shakespeare in Love (1998 Academy Award, Best Original Screenplay) and Anna Karenina, and his numerous theatrical plays. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead stands as his first major work to gain recognition, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It took home the 1968 Tony Award for Best Play along with New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award in the same category. A defining characteristic of Stoppard’s writing style is addressing philosophical questions with wit and comedy which is exemplary in even this early work.

Nancy Williams has returned to Gallery Players to direct the show after her directorial debut in 2015 where she directed A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller.

“I like new challenges. This play is so very different from anything I’ve directed in the recent past. I was interested in tackling how to clearly present intentionally ambiguous material that is open to interpretation,” Williams said.

Stoppard is known for being open to interpretation of his work, and for this production, four women are cast in traditionally male roles including both Rosencrantz (played by Elizabeth Girven) and Guildenstern (played by Kate Willis). For Williams, that was an important aspect that added to the draw of the show.

“I’m very proud of everyone who has worked on the show. I love watching people who are newer to theater working alongside veterans – stretching their imaginations and creating a unique vision. Working with both community members and professionals to create a truly phenomenal performance is exciting,” Williams said.

One actor that is new to the theater is first-time Gallery Players participant and JCC member Marcie Golden. Golden has experience in stand-up comedy, but decided to leave of her comfort zone and try acting.

“I wanted to do something different so I auditioned,” Golden said, “but I thought, ‘There is no way I make callbacks.’ Everybody who tried out was so talented and I was mortified. Stand-up and acting are two very different things. I didn’t even want to come to callbacks but I was so encouraged by (Gallery Players Artistic Director) Jared Saltman.”

Golden portrays a Tragedian in the play.

“There is a reason Gallery Players is starting its 69th season and is the longest running community theater in the Midwest – the quality of the personnel they hire, the expectations – it’s truly professional,” Golden said, “The other cast members are amazing and I’ve learned so much from the director. Some rehearsals, I feel like I’m in a theater class, others I feel like I’m in a literature class. Everybody brings different talents to the table, not just on stage but in helping each other form community – that’s what makes it so special.”

For Williams, determining how to take abstract concepts and create clear themes all while highlighting comedy and humor made this project special.

“The key to the play is the title. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead but they just don’t know it. The show considers how we deal with subjects we are uncomfortable talking about. Sometimes it’s through logic, sometimes emotions, sometimes humor. These different elements of how we go about it are all included in the show. Some of the elements are downright silly, but so are people – so is humanity. The best way to deal with serious topics is sometimes through humor,” Williams said.

Although the comedic show has themes that are philosophical and abstract, Williams believes that the play has a more tangible, if nuanced, meaning.

“At the end of the day, the play is about friendship and going through phases of your life with a friend,” Williams said, “That person that you trust implicitly and takes you through the tough times – you hold each other up and go through it together. Stoppard explores how necessary those relationships are walking through the journey of life.”

Tickets are available for purchase at columbusjcc.org/cultural-arts/gallery-players or at the JCC front desk (614-231-2731). For more information or group tickets, contact Jared Saltman at jsaltman@columbusjcc.org.

Gallery Players is generously underwritten by the Lenore Schottenstein and Community Jewish Arts Fund of the Columbus Jewish Foundation.