“We’re actors – we’re the opposite of people,” members of the Generic Theatre Company kept telling me. It’s a line from their upcoming production of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” opening tonight. Whatever it means, it’s probably not true – but the Generic players don’t want anyone to take them (or the production) too seriously.
The play is an absurdist take on two minor characters from “Hamlet.” In Shakespeare’s play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are courtiers sent by the king of Denmark as part of his plot against Hamlet. Here they are witless protagonists in a story they don’t understand, philosophizing aimlessly towards inevitable deaths.
Director Kiernan McGowan is excited to do a play that goes outside of reality, something he says you don’t see much in GW productions. “This play takes place an alternate world where the rules are much different,” he said. “It makes for new and interesting theater.”
Appropriately for the subject matter, the cast and crew of Generic are prone to acting a little absurd. “We’re a family. A nontraditional, dysfunctional family,” said freshman Nina Pedrad (“Player B”) at a recent rehearsal. For proof, she pointed to a corner, where two cast members were waltzing.
The cast is counting on that spirit coming through on stage. “It’s kind of a comedy, I think. I hope,” said senior Curtis Raye (“Player A”). “More complicated than ‘Anchorman,’ less complicated than a Charlie Kaufman movie. There’s physical humor, debauchery and one-liners.”
What about existentialism? “Well, sure, if you want to see it, that’s there too, but I want people to come.”
Like the characters, the cast rarely stops talking – about the sexuality of Panic! at the Disco, about the Shah of Iran and occasionally about theater. “It’s more like playtime than rehearsal,” Pedrad said.
Maybe so, but when it’s time to get down to business, Generic is committed to its craft. Freshman Ashley Seide (Rosencrantz) got a concussion before one rehearsal (a result of an accident involving some jousting props), but didn’t go to the emergency room until after the run-through. “She threw up three times,” added junior Meghan Long (Guildenstern).
McGowan, a sophomore who has acted in numerous GW productions (most recently “Juvenilia”), is making his directorial debut with “Rosencrantz.” “I have newfound respect for anyone directing a play,” he says. “It’s more work than I could have ever possibly imagined.”
For background, McGowan had the cast watch the movie version of the play (as well as Mel Gibson’s take on “Hamlet.”) “It was helpful more for what not to do,” McGowan said. “I wanted to avoid people just talking, make it more energetic.” He did compliment the movie’s style, but he explained that Generic doesn’t have the budget to replicate any of it: “There aren’t any horses, or really anything besides a few chairs and some lights.” They do have a live band, Evan Garcia and Ben Cocchiaro, who composed an original score (a little klezmer, a little French).
“Rosencrantz” is being staged in Mitchell Theater rather than Lisner Downstage – a move that poses some challenges. “It has a very bad reputation because the columns make it hard to set up a good audience size without anyone’s view being blocked,” McGowan explains. “I think we’ve partially succeeded.” All joking aside, you can enjoy an (unobstructed, if it all goes well) view of the play tonight through this weekend.