Two wicked smart actors tackle Tom Stoppard’s iconic and ironic comedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at Seattle Public Theatre. The twist? The title pair romping across the stage at Greenlake’s Bathhouse Theatre are played by women in this production.
We caught up with actors just before opening this week and chatted about the impact of changing the three main characters in this play to women. And their opinion of Hamlet.
Please introduce yourself and say which part you play.
Angela DiMarco. I will become Rosencrantz.
My name is Alyssa Keene and I’m playing Guildenstern.
So, how does the gender change impact your character? Or do you think that it doesn’t matter whether the role is a guy or a gal?
Keene: I also think that the existential angst that this play is rife with would have been attributed mainly to men when this play was written (1966). Today, I think that we understand that a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s life is genderless.
DiMarco: In our production the audience will be watching the friendship between two women instead of two men. I do think men and women act differently in with one another. However, we are still bound to the text. Alyssa and I bring a softer side to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s rough edges. But don’t get me wrong: we also bring a power that might be surprising.
Keene: Some things land differently. The Player (also a woman in this production) asks what sort of dramatic spectacle I’d be interested in seeing and proposes “The Rape of the Sabine Women.” I think that the disgust with which Guildenstern responds would be rooted more in squeamishness and less in feminist outrage if the actor were male.
DiMarco: I think it was brave of Shana Bestock (SPT artistic director) to cast women in the three leading roles. What shocked me was how easily it works as women. I don’t think anything is lost and it fits with modern day. Guys, like Hamlet, have women who are friends. Strong directors (The Player) often are women.
Are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern clowns? Or are they tragic characters?
DiMarco: Hmmmmmm, good question. I wouldn’t say we think we are tragic but the audience might feel sorry for us. Are we clowns? I think Rosie is a goofball for sure.
Keene: They are absolutely clowns who have no idea of their comic potential. Even The Tramp could move you to tears, right?
There’s a number of physical demands in this play, such as the repeated flipping of the coins that always land heads up and other bits. What’s the toughest scene to perform?
Keene: The coins were intimidating for me at first, but we had a wonderful stage magician who came in and helped us with our sleight of hand. The toughest part I imagine will be the pirates. I can’t say much more than that or I’d give away the surprise.
DiMarco: It isn’t too physically demanding but there is a ton of moving around. From scene to scene, act to act, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern never leave the stage! This means that we, the actors, Alyssa and Angela, never leave the stage. That can be tough to stay in the moment, say the right line and tell a good story with a beginning, middle and end.
What’s your favorite line in this script?
Keene: Well, there’s a funny one where Rosencrantz tells me she doesn’t believe in England and I respond “Just a conspiracy of cartographers, you mean?” It made me laugh out loud the first time I read the script. Another favorite is “We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except the memory of the smell of smoke and the presumption that our eyes once watered.” It’s a beautiful, compassionate way of describing how we often forget what we’ve learned and are often condemned to repeat our mistakes.
What has Stoppard taught you about Shakespeare?
DiMarco: That Shakespeare should have written more for Rosencrantz and Guildensternin Hamlet.
Keene: To let the wordplay wash over you. It’s not as complicated as we first make it out to be. It’s always about the human experience.
What do you think about Hamlet, either the play or the character?
DiMarco:I would love to tackle (the play) Hamlet…. but I would want to play Hamlet. I can tell a hawk from a handsaw too!
Keene: I can’t wait to age into those fantastic queens; I’d love to play Gertrude. Until that recent BBC version, I didn’t think much of Ophelia, but I’d love to play Gertrude and watch some young, smart actress play Ophelia with the teeth she really deserves. Hamlet himself drives me a little nuts. I can’t stand a waffler.