Thursday, March 29, 2012

theatre review TRAVESTIES, McCarter Theatre, March 18

Tom Stoppard's play Travesties tells the story of a man in Zurich who remembers three people he came in contact with around 1917.  Those three people just happen to be James Joyce, Lenin and Tristan Tzara, one of the founders of the anti-establishment movement Dada.  The man who tells us the story of his encounters with these famous men is Henry Carr, an English consular officer who is also somewhat of an amateur actor.

Now all four of these men were actually living in Zurich in 1917 but they most likely never actually met.  So while Stoppard has created an interesting memory play based on real people, in typical Stoppard fashion Travesties also has an overabundance of references to politics, philosophy, culture and art.  While I have enjoyed other Stoppard plays I did think that this was one where there was so much in act one that was unnecessary or that I just didn't seem to connect with.  I'm not sure if I'm just not in the core audience for Stoppard, if I'm just too beneath the material or too uneducated to get all of the references he makes.  And while you don't have to get all of the references to understand the main plot of the play, the fact that so much  of the material went over my head made me and I'm sure many others feel like an uninvited guest at a party.  I do believe the version being performed at the McCarter is an edited version from the original but I wish it was edited a little more as the first 30 minutes include many ramblings from the older Carr that didn't do much for me.  The second act is much better as that is where Carr's memory starts fading, replaying events differently and when the play connects better as a memory play of someone who may or not really have witnessed the events on display.  The second act is also much funnier than the first.

James Urbaniak, Everett Quinton and Christian Coulson
I did like how the actions of the play in many ways mirrors the actions of The Importance of Being Earnest, the play that Carr just happens to be appearing in an amateur production of.   There is also much humor in the play.  The direction by Sam Buntrock  is very good, and I also thought the cast was excellent.  James Urbaniak is Carr and does an excellent job in playing the older and younger versions of the character.  Christian Coulson perfectly got Tzara as the crazy, frenetic individual who had major issues with the more traditional Joyce, nicely played by Fred Arsenault.  The set design by David Farley was a lovely two story library with excellent use of the walls to transform it into Carr's home.

If you're looking for an intellectual night out at the theatre that will stretch your brain I'm sure you'll have a good time at Travesties.  However if you often get lost in political conversations like I do or if you have no idea what the Dada movement was then I'd stay clear of Princeton for the next week.

Official McCarter Site

Highlights from the production:

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