If there's any certainty in contemporary theater, it's that any work by Tom Stoppard is going to be a five-ticket ride. One of the foremost playwrights of the 20th century, Stoppard dazzles with verbal fireworks, elaborate plots, puns and games, and a love of theater that's downright tangible. He tackled Shakespeare in his Academy Award-winning screenplay Shakespeare in Love and Tony-winning Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Victorian gay love in The Invention of Love, and Russian revolutionary politics in Travesties.
His 1988 cold-war comedy Hapgood, which is running at the Alley Theatre, maneuvers over, around and between the shifting alliances, double crosses and betrayals of that wonderful world of spy vs. spy. Nothing is what it seems in Stoppard's fractured view of East-West espionage. Tony-nominated actress Josie de Guzman, an Alley regular, plays the English secret service agent who must discover the true allegiance of the agent leaking scientific information to the Russians. There's KGB, CIA and the British MI6. There are double and even triple agents. Oh, yeah, and mind-numbing quantum mechanics gets thrown into the mix, too.
"Thank God my character is on the periphery of that," says Guzman, who notes that the show is more about the duality of people than cloak-and-dagger espionage. "We're not just black and white," she says. Still, Guzman admits it's not easy being a spy. "It's an amazing play and the hardest thing I've ever done," she says. "Physically, it's complicated because we're dealing with a lot of props. Emotionally, it's complicated, because these people are all hiding things, but there's a lot going on inside them."
And of course, there's Stoppard's language, which is complex and fluid -- and challenging. "You have to go along with it, even when you don't get all of it," says Guzman. "Boy, I'm trying to come up to it. I feel so lucky to get a chance to play this part. I've been working -- pardon my French -- my ass off. But it's going to be well worth it."
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