BWW Review: ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD at Texas State University Delivers a One-of-a-Kind Theatre Experience
It's rare that I see a production that leaves me speechless like Texas State's production of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD. This show is so conceptual and cerebral that it is an experience that you won't often find in the theatre. In short, director Allison Price has put together a truly singular theatre going experience with ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD at Texas State University.
Playwright Tom Stoppard's theme of being stuck in the role you're destined to play is taken to a new level when it came to Director Allison Price's casting. Her decision to genderbend many of the cast, including the ill-fated title characters, was a brilliant addition to this theme, making the layer of performing gender roles an unspoken thread throughout the production. One moment that made this choice sing was when Hamlet breaks up with Matthew Vo's Ophelia. Vo takes off his wig and has a beautiful moment where he breaks down until Polonius comes in and silently commands Vo to put his wig back on, which he does in a moment that is heart shattering.
Everything that I have seen Price direct uses movement in such an interesting way, and this production is the perfect example of what interesting movement and direction choices can add to a script. The idea of the royal family voguing and using their movements to symbolize when they are in the "performance" aspect of the show. Kennedy's Hamlet starts the show with an extremely physical and erratic style of voguing that becomes more and more subdued as the show goes on and he descends further and further into madness - which is absolutely genius, it makes his Hamlet go from a comedic element to someone who feels like a true threat to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Now, you can't talk about this show without spending some time with our doomed protagonists. Daniella Treviño brings the lovable and slightly dimwitted, although emotionally aware, Rosencrantz to life. The sheer amount of layers that she puts into her performance is breathtaking and feels immensely real. The moment where her Rosencrantz accepts their death in the third act is one of the most realistic and heartbreaking moments I have ever seen on the stage.
If Trevino's Rosencrantz is the heart of the show, then Morgen Amalbert's fast talking and highly logical Guildenstern is the mind. The show begins with the two spinning coins and Amalbert goes through the science and statistics of landing on heads 92 times in a row like it's second nature, trying to explain concepts far beyond what Rosencrantz understands. Guildenstern is perhaps too cerebral to understand that they have done this all before and are trapped to forever relive (and die) as pawns in the story of Hamlet, making the scene where they read the switched letter and learn that they are going to die when they land in England that much more impactful.
The Tragedians lead by Juileanna Stolley's Player were oodles of fun. Stolley's performance is delectable with cult leader levels of charisma with a dark undercurrent bubbling behind the big smiles and witty retorts. It's clear that The Player knows exactly what is going on and is relishing in holding it over our protagonists heads, and nowhere is that more evident than when we are seeing the final scene of Hamlet. Stolley is on the highest level of the set, looking down at the grim tableau of bodies as Horatio delivers his final lines with an unsettling look glee on her face.
The entire design team created a world that, for lack of a better world, is stunning. The Tudor era costumes (designed by Ryan Sozzi), including the regal dress that Jeremiah Porter's Gertrude gets to wear, could make Queen Elizabeth jealous. Scenic designer Gary Thornsberry's set was a feast for the eyes, easily transforming into a stage for the Tragedians to a ship for act three, with well thought out small details and clever set dressings like curtains that turned into a scrim to help act out the play within a play. Perhaps the most brilliantly utilized technical element was Andrew McDaniels's lighting design. Whenever Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are within the scenes from Hamlet, the light over them gives the effect of being trapped in a cage, showing just how trapped they are in their fate.
I could go on for days about the tiny moments of pure genius in this production, but no matter what I say, it won't do the show the justice it deserves. ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD is a fantastic opener to the 2019-2020 season for Texas State, and I cannot wait to see what else they have in store for us this season.
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD
By: Tom Stoppard
Directed by: Allison Price
Texas State University Department of Theatre and Dance
October 1- 6