Plano — At first glance a satirized and sanitized version of HBO’s hit television series Game of Thrones performed by kids may sound simultaneously ludicrous and impossible. However, the thought should become irresistible instead when one discovers that the pint-sized play parody, Jeff Swearingen’s Game of Thrones, Jr. comes from the mind of writer/director Swearingen and the great folks at Fun House Theatre and Film.
Seriously, how could anyone make a family friendly version of the notoriously violent and sexy cable drama and series of fantasy books by George R. R. Martin? Swearingen and company not only fulfilled that mission that but they also made it smart, funny, sophisticated yet accessible, and, most of all, fun. (The addition of Swearingen's name to the show's title clears up any questions that this is parody.)
The show uses 28 actors varying in age from 8 to 16 to answer the question of what happens “when something truly adult is sanitized, censored, made ‘acceptable’ for children and in all ways become juvenile?” There’s also a wink to the growing trend of “junior” editions of musicals for youth casts (seriously, how far off can Sweeney Todd, Jr. be?) The fact that they are able to do this in a wildly creative, insightful, and comedic manner while satisfying many tastes and age groups is incredible.
HBO and Martin’s Game of Thrones is the eponymous source material and it informs the show overall no matter how far afield it roams with callbacks to Star Wars, the cartoon Hong Kong Phooey, The Lord of the Rings, Monty Python, homeopathic medicine, and modern marketing philosophies (just to name a few). Knowledge of these touchstones, especially GoT, is not necessary to appreciate the play, but it certainly deepens the experience. In my reviewing party there was an adult who had seen all of the GoT shows and read the first book, a 16-year-old who had only a passing knowledge of the series, a 6-year-old with zero acquaintance with the material but who sees many plays, and an adult reviewer who has seen every GoT episode and read every book. We all loved it.
Our passion for and profound enjoyment of Game of Thrones Junior at the Sunday matinee we attended were a result of Swearingen’s knack for nuance and a nerdy-insider sensibility and silliness, and his ability to elicit world-class performances from his cast. Swearingen has been justly lauded with unanimous praise and year-end awards because he takes chances with material (Mamet, Stoppard, LaBute, and one of the best productions of Hamlet I have ever seen) and pushes his fun-sized thespians to transcend typical “bad child acting.”
Standouts in an ensemble of standouts include Jonah Johnson as the outcast son John Snow of the Stark family, an effervescent Kennedy O’Kelley as John’s wicked stepmother Cratelyn Stark, and even youngest cast member Jude Baremore as Tony “Bra” Stark garners his share of laughs. Matt Howe as Ice Dad is a hilarious holistic patriarch of his ice family (GoT’s White Walkers), Laney Neumann captures the cruel spirit of beautiful and evil Cersei Lannister in her role as Curtsey Cannister, and Logan Beutel’s surly simpering as her son Geoffrey Cannister just might be one of the funniest things in the show. And speaking of laughter, Tess Cutillo as King nearly brought down the house every time she delivered her lines, and Doak Campbell Rapp deserves a horse lord’s helping of acclaim for his charming and grunting take on Grunther the Doakrapi.
Finally, Kennedy Waterman (she of the 2013 Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum award) is a constant joy to witness as she continues to hone her excellent theatrical craft. Waterman, though only 13, carries the show as Sun Beam Stark (a parody of GoT’s Eddard Stark). What is amazing is that she does this by not grandstanding or stepping on her fellow actors but by being so darn good that she elevates everyone’s already excellent game to an even higher level.
Kudos too to Swearingen and Bren Rapp’s set creation that features a pool-noodled chair a la GoT’s iron throne, and James Chandler’s functional and evocative costumes.
What a thing it is to discover that this play of children is not just child’s play; it’s a masterful game (of thrones).