Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead opens at Texas State in the Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre on Oct. 1 and runs through Oct. 6.
Stoppard’s play tests the definition of reality, fate and choice through the seemingly minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern tumble through the plot of the Shakesperian classic along with a troupe of players and the – almost unrecognizable – characters of Hamlet.
The production is under the direction of Allison Price, a Texas State University Directing graduate candidate. Price has been the recipient of many awards, including the Kennedy Center SDC Directing Fellowship, the WildWind New Play Development Residency, and the Stage Directors and Choreographers National Directing Award.
Historically a male-heavy play, Price opted to take a different approach by gender-flipping the casting in the show.
“When I was reading reviews for this show, someone called it an incredibly masculine play, and then I looked at all this history on casting, and who was being cast in which parts and it kind of actually made me a little upset,” Price said. “These issues that are in this play are not restricted to biologically male individuals. Females, people of color, and the queer community deal with nearly impossible worlds on a daily basis and are asking these same questions and are trying to survive but are still meeting less than ideal ends no matter what they do.”
Notably, Price said that the only role that hadn’t been originally flipped going into auditions was the part of Alfred, however, the hilarious Payton Mayfield won the role in callbacks. Mayfield plays both Alfred and Horatio in the show. As Alfred, Mayfield elicits constant laughs from the audience as she acts as the lackey to the troupe of players.
Armed with a ukulele and kazoos, the tragedians (Jack Durham, Britain Stibora, Derek Miller and Jackson Cosgrove), along with their leader, the Player (Julieanna Stolley), and Alfred, were the highlights of the performance. Incorporating today’s music in their entrances and exits, they cause buckets of laughs with their physicality and silent banter. Prior to the start of the rehearsal, the troupe interacted with my assistant and me while in character.
Placing bets while flipping coins, the tragedians won and required us to take a “sexy” group photo of them. Much to Alfred’s dismay, the tragedians also coerced an impression of Mario from the “Mario Brothers” from him.
Another stand out had to be Hamlet (Matthew Kennedy). With a flamboyant flair, Kennedy’s high energy performance heavily complimented the performances by Rosencrantz (Daniella Trevino) and Guildenstern (Morgen Amalbert). The trio draws the audience in with their quick movements and verbal tennis.
Trevino approaches this character with a softer side that I have not seen before. Her Rosencrantz is the softer spoken of the duo and is very unsure and timid. Depending greatly on Guildenstern for direction up until the very last minute. Amabert’s Guildenstern is definitely the more harsh and outgoing of the two taking the lead on every small puzzle the pair encounter.
Amabert said she was careful to develop her character in respect to Rosencrantz in order to make them attracting opposites.
“This comparison led me to finding a wide range of influences,” Amabert said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say Schmidt and Coach from ‘New Girl’ did not influence my character heavily.”
The technical aspects create a world that seems to dance between Shakespeare’s time and modern time. Elements of sound (by Phillip Owen) and lighting (by Andrew McDaniels) enthrall the audience. The set, designed by Gary Thornsberry, provides the actors with a jungle-gym to play on. Containing many different platforms, the scenic elements of this show take a more neutral tone allowing the other technical elements – like the costumes – to drastically stand out.
Costumes designed by Ryan Sozzi were delectable elements of the show. Particularly, Gertrude’s attire was a standout. Decked in gold – everything, Gertrude (Jeremiah Porter) graced the stage in an outfit fit for a queen. Additionally, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were dressed to the nines in contrasting tones of color – Rosencrantz in cool colors while Guildenstern was doused in warmth.
Price’s directing paints beautiful pictures that are framed by the proscenium stage. Riddled with visual variety and levels, the staging of this production keeps up with the chaos that is taking place in the writing.
“Honestly, I want the audience to walk away with an existential crisis,” Amabert said. “And I mean that in the best way possible.”
Tickets are available online, by phone at (512) 245-6500 and at the box office an hour prior to the show. This is one tragedy you don’t want to miss.
Featured image by Piper Blake.