Continuing for the next two weekends, City Theater Austin is offering audiences two plays for the price of, well, two, but the entertainment value of both is greater than the sum of its halves.
William Shakespeare's Hamlet, arguably The Bard's greatest work, should be the first seen. With Patrick David Wheeler making his Austin stage debut in the title role, the Melancholy Prince of Denmark's indignant angst, rage, and mock insanity are brought forth with intensity. Darren Scharf plays Hamlet's uncle/stepfather King Claudius, Bobbie Oliver his mother Gertrude, and Meg Steiner his love interest Ophelia. Ophelia's father Polonius is played by Larry Oliver, and her brother Laertes by Joshua Cookingham. Especially enjoyable are the portrayal of Ophelia's grief-induced dementia, and the appearances of Mick D'Arcy as The Ghost of Hamlet's father, King Hamlet, with Gothic spookiness as the voices of the souls in purgatory surround the audience, echoing his words. In all, a cast of 14 collaborate to bring Shakespeare's play forth in two acts, with some playing multiple roles. Spoiler alert: in the end almost everybody dies.
If you have never seen Hamlet, this is a very good introduction to it. If you have seen it, no matter how many times, see this production again as a prelude, since the same cast returns in the same roles to present the next play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. This is a witty comedy that focuses on two of the more minor characters from Hamlet, somewhat deep-thinking yet dim-witted childhood school friends of the Prince.. If your mind has ever drifted as you watched Hamlet agonize over whether "to be, or not to be," and wondered if something funny might be going on in the next room, here is your answer.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern display signs of intelligent brilliance, and daftness all at once. Clay Avery plays Rosencrantz, the more
simple-minded of the two, while Dave Yakubik portrays Guildenstern, the more inquisitive. Capable of pondering the statistical unlikeliness of an unbroken string of consecutive "heads" from a tossed coin, they nonetheless often forget which of themselves is Rosencrantz and which is Guildenstern. While filling the royal couple's request to spy on the prince, they ponder the mysteries of life and find more questions than answers. Segments of "Hamlet" are played out around them, as seen through their eyes, and they often see subtle nuances that traditional Shakespearean audiences miss.
Together, Hamlet and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern deliver an entertaining weekend of theatre well worth seeing.