The Concord Journal Thur, April 19, 1990
To be dead or not to be dead
By Kay Fairweather  

Special to the Journal

"What a fine persecution? To be kept intrigued without ever quite being enlightened' or "The laws of probability have been suspended!"

Forget about the Massachusetts State Budget or the Poindexter Trial -- these are lines being hearded on Walden Street where the Concord Players are in their final rehearsals of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead"

This Tom Stoppard play is a masterful blend of his now characteristic wit and levity mixed with serious concerns. Stoppard uses the technique of a play-within-a-play to address man's ultimate responsibility for what he does and consequently for who he is.

The Play within the play is Hamlet, which itself presented a play within a play. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the two ill-fated characters from Hamlet, amuse themselves and pointlessly pass the time with coin-flipping and philosophical discussions on the nature of death. Stoppard's language on death is poetic but not lofty.


Just when he has you sensing the emotions of "a disappearance gathering weight as it goes on," or "a gap you can't see and when the wind blows through it, it makes no sound," he will offer you in a light-hearted vein "the absence of presence," or the possibility that "it might be ... very nice." Ros and Guil also entertain themselves, and the audience, with delightful Stoppardian word games.

The question they present is whether their fate has been sealed for them by Shakespeare, by Stoppard in the title of the play, or whether they have some freedom. To choose or not to choose, that is the question.

One of Stoppard's earliest plays, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" was first presented at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland in 1966. It went on from there to London and opened in New York in 1967 meeting with success everywhere it played.

It won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Tony Award as the Best Play of the Season. It gave the unknown 29-year-old playwright professional respect equivalent to that enjoyed by Osborne and Pinter.

As Clive Barnes wrote in the New York Times in 1967 "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Live." He was right.