by Rita Charleston
Old Academy Players is presenting its 522nd production, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” an absurdist, existential tragicomedy running now through Nov. 17 at the group’s theater on Indian Queen Lane in East Falls.
Written by Tom Stoppard and directed by Sarah Labov, the play, which won the 1968 Tony Award for Best Play, tells the story of Hamlet along with two hapless minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who suddenly find themselves thrust on to center stage. As the bewildered duo stumble their way in and out of the action of Shakespeare’s classic drama, they become increasingly out of their depth as their version of the story unfolds.
In the role of the Player is East Falls resident Charles Mueller, who explained in an interview last week that his character is jaded, domineering, loud-mouthed and long-winded. “He’s kind of a vagabond figure in my opinion. He almost represents Shakespeare in some ways, I think. He gives people glimpses of the realities these guys are facing, and creates chaos in a way but also brings understanding to many things. I love the character because he just sort of flows in and out of scenes.
“The player is very much a performer, but in order for the character to translate himself to the audience, you’ve got to bring him down a couple of levels and try to make him more relatable. And for that I thank Sarah for making me less flamboyant and helping me connect with the audience.”
Originally from Malvern, Mueller married in 2003 and moved to the area not far from the Old Academy theater. A mechanical engineer who is also a fencer, Mueller’s first association with Old Academy happened when he was asked to choreograph a fencing sequence for the group.
“And not long after doing that, I began acting at the theater. I had done some theater when I attended Drexel University, so I had already been bitten by the bug,” Mueller said. “And now, after 18 years, I’m still associated primarily with Old Academy. And I love it. They do quality work, some spectacular shows which I’ve been able to participate in as far as directing, producing and performing.”
Another plus for Mueller in working with the group is that the theater is not far from his home.
“I love this area. There’s a lot of history here, and we’re within walking distance from so many things. It’s like being in the country but yet not far from the city. It’s just a great community.”
Mueller said the greatest joy for him is being able to pull himself out of his current identity and become somebody else.
“And then there’s the interaction with other performers, directors and producers. You get to step out of your everyday life and enjoy every play, which is always different, even if you do the same play every day. Unfortunately, I can’t always be involved in every play because I do have my work to do and my desire to be with my family. I guess I’m not that dedicated, but when I can do it, it’s wonderful.”
Also wonderful for this actor-engineer is the fact that his 14-year-old daughter, Camellia Rose, is also involved with Old Academy.
“She does not like to be on stage but does love to do everything behind the scenes, like set design, producing and even co-directing a one-act play, which she did with me last summer.”
When he was younger, the 51-year-old Mueller said he did consider becoming a professional actor, but that time has passed.
“Today, doing what I do has become my favorite hobby, my passion. And this is one of my favorite plays. Although I’m very busy at work, so had it not been for this play I don’t think I’d be acting right now. I’ve done many shows, but at this point in my career I would definitely say this is my favorite role.”
For more information, visit OldAcademyPlayers.org or call 215-843-1109.