Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Travesties"

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note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Larry Stark


A Response by Larry Stark

Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2008 17:19:05 -0700 (PDT)
From: [withheld]
Subject: Travesties
"The direction was brilliant, the acting was amazing, the writing was not my thing, but I'm open minded."

This started as a mere discussion, but I realized after a couple paragraphs that that turned into, not quite a review, but a Response to one of my favorite plays of all time. SO, this time, I'll put the listings on the bottom, and rush right into my somewhat obscure comments:

In 1972 or '79 in London we (I was married at the time) saw a Stoppard play at the new National Theatre. It concerned a conductor (Shostakovitch the composer maybe in subtext) who'd been put in jail because of un-Soviet statements. There was a 12-or-so-piece orchestra sitting in his cell, and he two or three times in the course of the play he conducted it.

The newest Stoppard in New York was a three-play history of Communism.

And TRAVESTIES was really the first B I G Stoppard show to come not only to Broadway to a national tour that played The Colonial.

In England about 1971 the first Stoppard I saw was JUMPERS, in which a philosophy teacher is trying to write a speech defending some obscure aspect of the subject. He starts with a different philosophical school or question about 95 times and, by the end of every first paragraph, he logically DISproves the truth of the statement instead of upholding it. (Stoppard went to Cambridge...) And in a total aside, there's a pair of English Astronauts on ' telly punching each other out because they have only enough fuel for One of Them to get back from The Moon. Oh! This teacher got to do the speech because the Department Head, who was part of an amateur gymnastics group had fallen from their Pyramid of Flesh and died.

Here Stoppard got done (Professionally!) in his short-plays. THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND, in which two critics review and then get drawn into an Agatha Christie like-a-look mystery play actually played the Colonial with a famous t-v actor in the lead.

In '72 we were inEngland for ten weeks (60 plays), and on 'telly there was a docu-show on Stoppard in which he talked about the origin of AFTER MAGRITTE: he said he had a friend that raised Birds of Paradise --- semi-intelligent birds that could undo the garden gate, but didn't know what to do with their freedom. Sure enough his friend caught sight of a bird escaping and, half-shaven and in pajamas, he chased it down, got it tucked under his arm, and marched back home. Stoppard said he didn't write the play from his friend's point of view, or Stoppard's, or even from the bird's. It was from the point of view of a family in a car that, coming around a curve, saw man and bird on the street for only a few seconds, and argued for the next Hour about exactly what it was they saw. Oh, and they were coming from an exhibit of Magritte's surreal paintings because the mother played the tuba and Magritte painted them.

For these reasons, I am Not the best person to review this play!

There's usually too much background, too much research, in his plays --- bigger and more complicated seems to him to be better, as opposed to Pinter's succinctness. But he is, I think, only a couple years older than I am, so a lot of our life-experiences (at least macro-politically) coincide. I knew Tristan Tzara and James Joyce and Lenin were all in Switzerland during most of the First World War, and the idea of Three Revolutions cooking themselves into existence in the same library in the same small city wasn't new to me. His imitations of the Styles in which all three worked are more than parody; their personalities are personified as well.

Your insight that "As I saw it, it is a show taking place in a man's memory that is slightly twisted." is indeed dead-on. A doddering old ex-burocrat tries to talk about his own days in Zurich --- even playing Ernes... no, the other one... in THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ALGERNON, and trying to get the cost of his costume paid back by the company's Business Manager: Jamie Joyce himself.

Maybe the best approach is to go to this beautifully acted and imaginatively staged explosion of history, glanced at through the eye of a brilliant wit, would be Expecting to be Educated. True, the concerns about what Lenin's hold on Russia would mean to all the Artists in that country almost interrupt the bumpy flow of dazzling parodies. The fact is that this show is Funny; it may be that it's funnier if you know things about the protagonists, but there's enough there, I think, for everybody.

Early on in this, I realized I wasn't really talking Only To YOU.
So I decided to make this my review.
Thanks for the opportunity!
YOUR view of what you and I saw means as much to me as my own; I hope everyone understands that.

Break a leg!
( a k a That Fat Old Man with The Cane )


by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Diego Arciniegas

Set Design by J. Michael Griggs
Assistant Scenic Designer Younia Kowal
Costume Design by Rafael Jaen
Assistant Costume Designer Brian Choinski
Lighting Design by Kenneth Helvig
Sound Design & Production Manager John Doerschuk
Assistant Stage Manager Paige Causeway

Henry Carr...........Nigel Gore
Tristan Tzara...Alejandro Simoes
James Joyce......Derry Woodhouse
Lenin............Gabriel Kuttner
Bennett..............Dafydd Rees
Gwendolen............Lynn Guerra
Cecily...........Molly Schreiber
Nadya.............Lorna Noguiera

"Travesties" (10 April - 4 May)
@ Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA
1 (617)933-8600

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