Play Promises to Be a Hit
Upon entering Little Theater for a performance of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, I wondered how well this highly verbal piece would be handled. I am pleased to say that the director, senior Elizabeth Burke, and her extremely well-cast ensemble have crafted a production worthy of praise and recognition.
Travesties takes place mostly in 1917, where the central character, Henry Carr (sophomore Andrew Mooney) finds himself in neutral Switzerland during the last years of World War I. These 1917 events are told through a flashback, as an aging Carr recalls the wartime events from a sitting room chair many years later. That year saw Carr meeting three important men who were then on the rise: Tristan Tzara, James Joyce and Vladimir Lenin.
That same year, Tzara (sophomore Enrico Nassi) was working in vogue with Dada, a new artistic movement that rejected both the war and then-current artistic standards.
Although the characters all seem to share the same negative attitude toward war, debate is incredibly fierce as the characters consider art as representative of human culture. Many of Stoppard’s most eloquent passages surround both artistic motivation and the proper place of art in society.
This discussion becomes particularly interesting during a scene in which Tzara discusses art with James Joyce (junior Tom Curtin). Joyce, we find, is writing a passage from his novel Ulysses, which would later go on to be considered one of the greatest works of modernist literature.
Both Tzara and Joyce are incredibly interested in how art and society function together. Although these characters are spatially located within neutral Switzerland, the ideas they develop are highly controversial. Both Dada and Ulysses would have major effects on the art world for years to come.
Lenin (sophomore Alex Huntsberger) would go on to have a similarly dramatic impact on history, but his would be markedly political. In 1917, Lenin passes through Zurich in an attempt to return to a Russia embroiled in fierce revolution.
Stoppard’s writing becomes most effective as it realizes the difficult connections among these three incredibly diverse men, and Burke effectively brings the challenging piece to life. The director’s work particularly shines in the most hectic moments of the piece.
As characters rushed about onstage, I admired how the actors’ movements mimicked the script’s challenges.
The set also showcased the diverse ideas of the play. The backdrop resembled a collage with pictures, newspapers and video projectors providing historical background.
The ideas of diversity and disagreement through artistic and political difference became apparent as the characters debated their wildly different ideas. Unfortunately, Stoppard’s prose often became didactic and I found myself drowning in a sea of words. If one has not studied this play beforehand, one may become lost or confused amid everything that is being said.
Despite these verbal challenges, all of the actors were fully committed to their challenging roles. I particularly enjoyed Mooney’s portrayal of Carr. Most enjoyable were the moments when he was attempting to recall a large number of facts in a short amount of time; these moments proved to be both comical and enlightening. The multi-dimensionality came through well; I was at times incredibly fond of Carr’s memories, at others incredibly annoyed at his self-centeredness.
Huntsberger’s Lenin and his onstage wife, Nadya Lenin (senior Mary Notari), were also portrayed well with a story that was intriguingly human.
The ensemble as a whole seemed to be most confident in livelier scenes; in moments of sentimentality and sadness, the tempo of the piece momentarily faltered.
Despite the intellectual challenges presented to the audience by Stoppard’s verbose script, I was incredibly drawn in by the colorful characters and storylines. The piece was incredibly engaging and satisfying.
Travesties opened last night in the Little Theatre and will run through April 7 showing at 8 p.m. Tickets are available through CTS or at the door.