A Tale of Two Classics

The Guthrie juxtaposes masterpieces by Shakespeare and Stoppard.

The Acting Company's
Photos by Michael Lamont
The Acting Company's "Hamlet"

If ever two plays begged to be played in rep, it’s Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. And now it’s happening at the Guthrie in association with The Acting Company, which also did the two shows in New York in January.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern—about two minor characters in Hamlet who are confused about the action swirling about them and powerless to affect it—operates in and around the edges of the Shakespeare. The characters move in and through scenes from Hamlet, and the same actors will play their characters in both productions. But Stoppard’s play could not be more different from Shakespeare’s. It is an existential comedy, more akin to the work of Samuel Beckett.

“It’s a perfect repertory in classical theater,” says The Acting Company artistic director Ian Belknap. “Stoppard’s agent attended a performance of Peter O’Toole’s Hamlet, where he got the idea for what became Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.”

The mission of The Acting Company is “the development of young classical actors,” and this is the sixth year of its collaboration with the Guthrie. One-third of the company comes from the University of Minnesota’s BFA program, including, in the role of Hamlet, John Skelley, a veteran of several of the collaborations as well as Guthrie productions as diverse as Hay Fever and Long Day’s Journey into Night.

“It’s great for the actors to explore the characters from two perspectives, 20th-century language and Shakespeare’s,” Belknap says, “and for the audience to see the characters from two distinctly different vantage points.” April 22–May 4. Guthrie Theater, 612-377-2224,