In an article by the New York Times about the brilliant playwright Tom Stoppard, we learn that Ernest Hemmingway was one of his favorite authors. Stoppard loved the “Iceberg Theory” in which only 1/8th of the overt meaning of the text is easily seen. The remaining meaning is submerged under water and must be discovered through the subtext. This explains a lot about Stoppard’s identity as an intellectual acrobat and a dazzling word spinner. All of this is evidenced in his play ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, playing now at Puyallup High School. The Drama Department has supported a rare rendition of this play. How lucky are these students to take on this play at their young age. It’s a chance of a lifetime and this cast makes the most of it.
The ensemble acting company is strong. But it is the superb precision of Grace Mallory as Rosencrantz and Mia McVay as Guildenstern that carries the play. They never leave the stage and their repartee and One-Up-Manship games and would have challenged even the finest of Vaudevillian wordsmiths. Mia McVay’s energy drives the play forward and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Grace Mallory focuses more on the inward dilemmas they face and provides a good foil for McVay.
The plot hinges on the arrival of two college classmates of Prince Hamlet who are coming to visit their friend. They have no idea of the turmoil about to surround them are dumbfounded by it all until “The Player” Jack Murdock and his troupe of Tragedians, played by Sky Manley, Domanic Haney, Margo Herman and Giacobbe Whitworth, show up and begin to help them piece a story together. Murdock’s sage advice stirs their memories and will to understand the world of the play. The Tragedians portray key events in tableaus and mimed sketches. Most memorable of the Tragedians performances takes place when Giacobbe Whitworth reveals how the King, Hamlet’s father was assassinated. These tragedians provide a fascinating backdrop in which their play within a play is filled with accurate technique and detached emotions. This is part of Stoppard’s message in how life and death may be viewed by actors but it is the audience that must carry the message home following the performance.
All of this is staged with tender care by director PJ Sirl. He has a particular talent in guiding the cast to an understanding of the absurdist world that is meaningful to them. The show is nuanced and well-paced. The dedication of the two leading actresses represents the hard work inside and outside of rehearsal that results in making the text seem like easy, spontaneous conversations. In his “Director Notes” Sirl thanks “Matt” for discussions about Shakespeare’s HAMLET and “Chris” for drawing out meanings of Stoppard’s play. We can thank the entire team put together by PJ Sirl and the Drama Department for such rich performances.
The play runs through Saturday, November 18 at 7 pm. The PHS auditorium is large. Find your seats in the center section as close to the stage as possible. If you have hearing devices, wear them. Even if you miss words here and there because of acoustic realities, it is well worth the experience to ride it out with this bold and engaging production.
The review and commentary was written by Lavinia Hart (PHS Alum Lindy Whitworth). Lavinia Hart and writer Don Doman are cousins. Their mothers were identical twins. The performer Giacobbe Whitworth is a cousin of both Lindy and Don. Don didn’t see this production, but did see Giocobbe in an earlier production of CINDERELLA at Puyallup High School last year.