Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, European Repertory Company, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Tom Stoppard secured his place on the theatrical map in 1967 with this wordy curiosity, a highly philosophical but stage-smart play crafted by a gamesome wordsmith enamored of the power of language. It’s a work that shows no signs of aging, especially in the European Repertory’s engaging, efficient production, starring Dale Goulding and Yasen Peyankov as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the minor characters in Hamlet who play key roles here. Goulding, doing double duty as director, gets the most out of Stoppard’s witty script, which explores how the laws of language can aid in questioning the characters’ fates—and our own destinies. When Rosencrantz declares, “The sun’s going down,” it’s clear we’re just a fatalistic vowel away from betrayal.

Goulding kicks back a bit as Guildenstern, seeming almost dim-witted—serving as comic jousting partner to Peyankov’s wounded, smart-aleck Rosencrantz. Their timing could use some tightening, but for the most part these actors play off each other as if the roles were made for them, turning their verbal sparring into an Elizabethan “who’s on first?” routine. But it’s the wildly talented Kirk Anderson as the Player/Polonius who mesmerizes, breathing fire as the Barnum-like showman whose cunning theatrics foil Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; his brilliant delivery and knowing smile–which should give the two some warning—infuse his every scene with spontaneous delight. Byron Wallace’s clever padded cell of a set and Robert Steel’s moody sound design give the space a dark familiarity.

—Erik Piepenburg