“The Tomb of King Tot”: a play about art’s relevance to grief

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"The Tomb of King Tut" will be performed on April 12th and 13th at 7:30 p.m. in the Marinoff Theater (photo by Chloe Johnson)

Grief pops up as a constant theme in art because the loss of a loved one is an experience all will have before the end of their lives. It is an emotion born from the kaleidoscope of pain, anger, and sadness that shows itself upon the emergence of a tragedy. This kaleidoscope of emotion is at the center of “The Tomb of King Tot” by Olivia Dufault, a play that is half way through its run at Shepherd University’s Marinoff Theater.

“The Tomb of King Tot” centers around the character Jane Haley, an artist who is known across New England for her serialized comic strip “King Tot.” Haley is ecstatic when she learns that her comic has been nominated for the Chuckling Willow prize, an award given each year to a female cartoonist. Excitement is then cut short when an unexpected tragedy strikes, which has Haley turning back to her “King Tot” comic strip to cope.

Each cast member of the Marinoff production brings equal amount of Aristotle’s concept of tragedy and comedy to their roles. However, this play would not stand on its feet if it weren’t for the stellar performance provided by Danny Beauclair as the lead role of Haley.

Beauclair’s ability to put such a wide range of emotions on display within the one act structure of the play is astounding. The character of Haley is one who jumps from great happiness to anger and then sadness all within the course of a single scene. Exhaustion is a word that comes to mind when thinking of how much energy must be used to take on the role of Haley night after night. However, Beauclair runs with the role without hassle, and her performance stands because of her ability to put grief’s kaleidoscope of emotion on full display.

Another cast member who stands out is Isiah Hall as Haley’s husband Porter. Hall has the unique challenge of portraying two roles in the play. Not only must he play the role of the grief-stricken husband, he must also bring comedy to the table as Haley’s comic strip character Heremheb. Where Hall needs compliment is in his ability to bring drops of comedy to the grief-stricken father and bits of tragedy to the bumbling oaf of Heremheb.

A superb technical achievement of “The Tomb of King Tot” is the attention to detail put into the set which was designed by Peggy McKowen. At the beginning of the play we are in the simple living room of Haley and Porter. But as Haley explores her grief through her comic, which is acted out behind her, the walls of the living room strip away to reveal an Egyptian tomb intended for a pharaoh’s eternal rest. This slick transition from living room to tomb is stunning, and the play’s production staff should be commended for it.

Overall, the Marinoff Theater’s production of “The Tomb of King Tot” is one to see for a story that explores grief and loss with drama, creative storytelling, and even splashes of comedy. The play will have two more performances on April 12th and April 13th. Tickets are available at the Marinoff Theater door one hour before the show. They cost $10 for general public, $5 for Shepherd faculty, and is free to Shepherd students with a valid proof of ID.