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THEATER REVIEW: Applauding OnStage’s “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead”

You half expect Rosencrantz – or, more likely, Guildenstern – to break into a chorus of “Alfie,” unable as they are to figure out what it’s all about.

These poor minor courtiers to the Danish throne seem to have escaped “Hamlet” and are first seen on the road to – somewhere, or maybe nowhere, perhaps even nonexistence.

While waiting for fate to reveal itself, they test the law of probability by flipping coins, defying that law with 92 consecutive heads.

But then a strolling troupe of Tragedians remind them they’ve been summoned by the king, for what reason they know not. They soon will find themselves in the middle of Shakespeare’s great play, being asked to “glean” what afflicts the young prince.

They are, of course, hopeless at it, and eventually find themselves accompanying Hamlet to London, where their fates will be sealed.

Meanwhile, the audience is treated to a wild stream of strange and wonderful philosophizing, with lines like “Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where’s it going to end?” and their analysis of Hamlet: “Half of what he said meant something else and the other half didn’t mean anything at all.”

It’s Tom Stoppard’s existentialist dramedy “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead,” in a fine production through March 31 at OnStage Playhouse.

Stoppard’s first professionally produced play (at the Old Vic in 1966) was an immediate success; in its Broadway incarnation it earned it four Tony Awards including Best Play.

Wonderfully co-directed by first-timers Jenna Long and Chad Oakley, this amazing, word-drunk romp benefits from brisk pacing and actors with great comic timing.

Paul Morgavo’s Guildenstern, the perplexed philosopher, charms with his existential confusion and amuses with his endless stream of words, while William Grazier’s Rosencrantz asks less, content to joke rather than to question.

Randy Coull’s opportunistic Player is perfect – at once ingratiating and seedy – a theatrical pimp offering scenes for coins, but specializing in the gory. His troupe (all male, in a bow to Shakespearean tradition) presents a wondrously ragtag bunch ready to put on any face at any time.

Long and Oakley have deleted the barrels in the scene on the boat and added a hilarious simulated sex scene to great comic effect.

Existentialism isn’t funny unless you’re Tom Stoppard. Imagine Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon doing Denmark, and you’ll have “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”

The details

“Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead” plays through March 31 at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Ave. in Chula Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call (619) 422-7787 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.