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Buffalo Laboratory Theatre's 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead' is an engaging, existential play

With a bare-bones set, lead actors Ray Boucher “Guildenstern” (left) and Taylor Doherty “Rosencrantz,” had to rely heavily on physical acting to create a meaningful and captivating performance.
The Southtowns’ best kept secret is hidden no longer. A strong crowd attended Buffalo Laboratory Theatre’s fourth annual Curtain Up! gala on Sept. 14, which featured live music, champagne and hors de oeuvres before BLT’s riveting rendition of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.” From the first pop of a cork to the final echo of the audience’s applause, it was evident that fine theater could be enjoyed beyond the city limits.

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” was a solid choice for BLT’s first show of the season. The tragicomedy is a retelling of “Hamlet” through the eyes of two of Shakespeare’s minor characters.
Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead"is a retelling of Hamlet through the eyes of two minor characters in Shakespeare's revered play.

As the plot unfolds, it evokes more questions than it does answers about the meaning and randomness of life. Rosencrantz (played by Taylor Doherty) and Guildenstern (Ray Boucher) struggle to comprehend who and where they are, as well as their overall purpose.

While a weighty script may be daunting enough, BLT’s choice of an austere set and limited props create an added challenge for the actors.

“Words. They are all we have to go on,” aptly assesses Guildenstern during the first act. Yet the theater company’s decision is a risk well taken: Boucher and Doherty deliver the verbose wordplay with such skill and emotion that anything else on stage would only distract from the talent at hand.

The leads’ natural chemistry must also be noted. Part Abbott and Costello, part musing philosophers, Boucher and Doherty can make the audience chuckle in one instant, and then collectively hold its breath during the sobering moment that follows. Katie White as The Player also delivers a strong performance, giving meaning to wordy monologues that lesser actors would deliver as a tedious recitation.
Buffalo Laboratory Theatre veteran Katie White, pictured center, also stars in "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" as The Player.

While the first act runs long (over an hour, so plan bathroom trips accordingly) the final minutes before intermission is worth the wait. The avant garde theater company provides aerial acrobatics at the end of Act One that are worthy of a Las Vegas stage. BLT should be complimented for this risk as well: the aerial dancing is sensational, without being senselessly flashy. The feats are incorporated in such a way that they accentuate the play rather than overshadow the scene.
The production features spectacular aerial dancing.

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” is undoubtedly a thinking play. For those looking for pure light-hearted entertainment, your money would be better spent on movie tickets or waiting for BLT’s future shows this season, which are less heavy in nature. (In the spring, BLT will perform “Choose Your Own Adventure: Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb!,” where the audience will determine the direction of the play using remote controls to vote.)

For now, BLT extends an invitation to experience a play that brings us back to theater’s original purpose: “To enjoy each other’s company, to laugh together, and to contemplate the Why.”

BLT performances are held at the William E. Swan Auditorium, located on the Hilbert College campus, 5200 South Park Ave. in Hamburg. Upcoming performances of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” will be held on Thursday, Sept. 20, Friday, Sept. 21 and Saturday, Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m., as well as Thursday, Sept. 27, Friday, Sept. 28 and Saturday, Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $20 general admission and $15 for students and senior citizens. To purchase tickets or for more information, call 202-9033 or visit


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