For their latest production, Nashville REP is presenting playwright Tom Stoppard’s play behind a play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” on stage now thru Saturday, October 31 at TPAC’s Andrew Johnson Theatre. With Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” a jumping off point, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern move from secondary background characters in The Bard’s original to the main source of amusement and befuddlement in Stoppard’s absurdist masterpiece. For a hilarious emoji-filled “Hamlet” refresher, Click Here.
In an effort to delve a little deeper into Nashville REP’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern”, I decided to have a little chat with the show’s stars, Patrick Waller and Matt Garner for the latest installment of my recurring celebrity interview feature, Rapid Fire 20 Q. As if by winning a coin toss, or perhaps simply by convenience, Patrick Waller who plays Rosencrantz was up first.
Rapid Fire Q&A with Patrick Waller, Rosencrantz in Nashville REP’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”
JONATHAN PINKERTON: As I’ve already so cleverly alluded, a coin toss figures prominently in the play. Within the context of the play, the coin always lands on ‘heads’. If you had to guess, what the percentage per night that it actually does indeed land on ‘heads’?
PATRICK WALLER: I’d say about 50%.
JP: Prior to being cast as Rosencrantz, how familiar were you with both Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”?
PATRICK WALLER: Had seen Hamlet and fairly familiar with it and had seen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead but never read it or really studied it.
JP: While the play is often generalized as an example of absurdist theatre, it seems to me it could be categorized as a simple ‘slice of life’ piece. If you had to nail it down to one genre, what would it be and why?
PATRICK WALLER: I would say tragicomedy. I know that’s two combined but I don’t think it really fits into just one. It’s sort of its own bizarre little piece.
JP: Throughout the play, Rosencrantz seems more concerned with what life has in store for him than the seemingly easy-going Guildenstern. In your real life, how are you most like Rosencrantz?
PATRICK WALLER: I’m a bit of a worrier.
JP: On the flip, how are you most like Guildenstern?
PATRICK WALLER: Not really like him at all.
JP: One of the most entertaining aspects of the play is the occasional interruption of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s mundane existence by characters and scenes familiar to fans of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. If you hadn’t gotten the part of Rosencrantz, what other part would you revel in and why?
PATRICK WALLER: Probably the Player. Still super challenging but not such a line load.
JP: One of my favorite Rosencrantz quotes is “He’s dead then. He’s dead as far as we’re concerned.” To me that’s basically saying “Out of sight, out of mind”. What’s your favorite quote from the show, your’s or someone else’s?
PATRICK WALLER: “We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the words for it, before we know that there are words, out we come bloodied and squalling with the knowledge that for all the compasses in the world, there’s only one direction, and time is its only measure.”
JP: As is always the case in Nashville REP productions, Resident Costume Designer Trish Clark has outdone herself. The costumes are spectacular. If you could bring back into vogue one aspect of these costumes, what would it be?
PATRICK WALLER: Capes. Hands down. We were actually joking in rehearsal one day that if we went walking through East Nashville with our capes on that in a month you’d see them everywhere.
JP: Initially the show might seem like it’s about nothing, but when you let yourself get caught up in it, it’s really quite the opposite, it’s about everything from life and death, social and economic standing, fate vs. chance. Is there an aspect of the show that you didn’t quite get initially that, as rehearsals and performances have continued, you’ve suddenly gone, “ah….so that’s what Stoppard is saying here”?
PATRICK WALLER: About fifty percent of the play. Stoppard’s just does some brilliant things with the way he constructed this play and you really do have to live with the words for a while to truly get it. In some cases I think he’s almost too smart for his own good.
JP: Dang, one question left before I chat with your co-star, Matt Garner, so I’ll ask…..having recently appeared alongside Garner in Nashville REP’s “Death of A Salesman” have the two of you developed a camaraderie that allowed your performances as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to flourish?
PATRICK WALLER: Absolutely. I have grown to admire and respect Matt both as a performer and a friend. He’s a good man and an incredibly gifted performer. Matt will tell you as well that we have never had to rely so much on another actor as we do each other in this show.
With that is was time to chat with Matt Garner, Guildenstern to Waller’s Rosencrantz.
Rapid Fire Q&A with Matt Garner, Guildenstern in Nashville REP’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”
JONATHAN PINKERTON: Ok, I’ll start with a question similar to how I ended my chat with your co-star Patrick Waller. Compared to your experience alongside him in Nashville REP’s “Death of a Salesman”, how does co-starring with him in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” compare?
MATT GARNER: We had so little interaction in Salesman – mostly Happy tormenting Bernard. I’ve loved Waller’s work. He throws himself into every performance, so I jumped at the chance to work with him on this scale. Patrick is a generous actor and that is essential for this play. I rely on him heavily in every scene. Performing absurdist work can feel like floating in the middle of the ocean sometimes, and it’s good to have a survival partner. Ha!
JP: When asking the previous question, it just occurred to me that in “Death of A Salesman” you played Happy Loman, a character who, as his name indicates, is seemingly Happy. Guildenstern also seems basically happy, or more to the point, happy go lucky, in that he’s more optimistic that Rosencrantz. In your real life, which are you more like?
MATT GARNER: I don’t know if I would label Guildenstern “happy go lucky” per se. He’s only happy when he feels like he’s worked something out intellectually, but whatever his conclusions, they never last long. I’m certainly more like Guildenstern in that I can get knotted up in logical arguments about my own existence, consciousness, etc.
JP: Before landing in Nashville, you were part of UNC’s PlayMakers Repertory Theatre Company. What’s it like to come from a respected University company to the prestigious Nashville REP?
MATT GARNER: I was ecstatic to learn of Nashville Rep’s wonderful reputation in the community. Not every city has such a rich performing arts culture, so this seemed like a perfect move.
JP: As I mentioned to you co-star, a central theme of the play centers around fate vs. chance. Which do you find more exciting?
MATT GARNER: I’m not sure I find either exciting because neither gives me any control. Ha!
JP: Prior to seeing Nashville REP’s production, I was only vaguely familiar with “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern”. I seem to remember seeing Gary Oldman in a PBS adaptation back in the early 90s. Before being cast, how familiar were you with the show?
MATT GARNER: Similarly, I had seen the film. And I did some scene study in graduate school.
JP: Having previously been directed by Nashville REP’s Producing Artistic Director, René Copeland in the aforementioned “Death of a Salesman”, can you share something about her directorial style as it relates to finding your voice within the character?
MATT GARNER: René lets you play and make lots of choices, some good, some terrible. Revelations are found in that spontaneity. It takes a lot of courage as a director to let things flow that freely. And it didn’t hurt that she had a wonderful grasp of some of the more troubling philosophical aspects of the play.
JP: I touched on the gorgeous costumes when I spoke with Patrick, so I’ll ask you. What’s your favorite thing about your character’s costume?
MATT GARNER: Doublets. They look awesome, and whatever your size, they give you that appealing V shape.
JP: Kyle Odum’s sound design, Gary C. Hoff’s set and Darren E. Levin’s lighting also help bring this story to life. If you had to…and I guess since I’m asking you to, you do….what’s your favorite aspect of the sound, the set and the lighting in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern”?
MATT GARNER: All those guys are geniuses. Sound: I love the canon and the wind. Gets me every time. Set: Gary made what is essentially a small black box seem enormous with that set. All those levels to play on. Lighting: The lighting shift right before “autumnal” gives me everything I need for that funny little speech.
JP: When the play debuted, it was frequently grouped alongside Samuel Beckett’s equally absurd “Waiting for Godot”. In more recent years, I’ve seen more than one critic suggest that TV’s “Seinfeld”, the celebrated ‘show about nothing’, is little more than a low-brow modern example. How would you describe the show?
MATT GARNER: In a nutshell, it’s an existential absurdist meta-theatrical buddy dramedy.
JP: OK, one last question. Throughout the show, whenever other characters interact with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, they frequently confuse which one is which. To me that suggests that we’re all in the same preverbal boat, yes, I went there. What’s your take on the constant confusion of the two?
MATT GARNER: Yes, they hold somewhat to what Stoppard has given them as assignments, but they’re never 100% sure. Also, the characters from Hamlet keep getting them switched, so that doesn’t help. Guildenstern does find solace in the fact that they are either one or the other. Alternatives but not choice.
Nashville REP’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” concludes its run with performances at TPAC’s Andrew Johnson Theatre thru Saturday, October 31. Remaining shows are as follows: Thursday, October 29 at 6:30 p.m., Friday, October 30 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, October 31, 2:30 p.m. matinee/7:30 final performance. Click Here for tickets. For more information about “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”, Click Here. To check out the rest of Nashville REP’s 2015-2016 season, Click Here.
If you’ve enjoyed this latest edition of my recurring celebrity interview Rapid Fire 20 Q, Click Here to check out previous interview, and be sure and click the ‘subscribe’ tab located near the close of this article to sign up for FREE email alerts whenever new Nashville Entertainment content is published.