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Review: TRAVESTIES at Lantern Theater

Review: TRAVESTIES at Lantern Theater

The smart show from Tom Stoppard runs through October 9th.

Now in its final week of a month-long run, the Lantern Theater Company's production of Travesties by Tom Stoppard is a wordy, allusive affair. Stoppard, the darling of modern British theater, often includes a tacit syllabus with his plays, which include such metaliterary Lit-class regulars as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Arcadia. Travesties, too, has enjoyed critical acclaim for its nearly 50-year life, and even saw a recent Broadway revival. If it is less produced than its siblings, it may be on account of the stringier plot and niche historical referents, both of which saddle the actors' dialogue decisions with the heavy lifting.

In Travesties, the audience encounters Vladamir Lenin (Gregory Isaac), James Joyce (Anthony Lawton), and Dadaist Tristan Tzara (Dave Johnson) through the dubious memory of Henry Carr (Leonard C. Haas), an aged World War I veteran and real-life historical footnote whose minor civil spat with Joyce over a fistful of francs following a production of The Importance of Being Earnest evidently tickled Stoppard's fancy. Droll and digressive, the nightgowned Carr is determined to write the memoir of his time in Zurich in 1917, during the war. Instead, of course, he ends up monologuing to us and reenacting his debates over the purpose of art and social critique, the future of class conflict, and, as he says, all sorts of "clever nonsense." More than a few elements of Earnest ironically resituate themselves as Carr sets about disingenuously wooing the ardently Marxist librarian Cecily (Campbell O'Hare) and Tzara sets his sights on Carr's sister, Gwendolen (Morgan Charéce Hall).

Like a damaged record, these scenes from Carr's memory reset seamlessly from one beat to the next, replaying themselves on a slightly different path, a structure that's been successfully re-used in works from Nick Payne's Constellations to Dan Harmon's Community to pensively round out the possibilities latent in a character pairing or a turning point. A stand-out moment comedic moment in this play comes during Carr's varyingly successful library flirtations, where Cecily alternately curses him out as a bourgeoisie pig and strip-teases on the front desk - a bit of base-level humor to balance the diatribes on the philosophy of art. In 2022, when Cubism is canon and Dada is art history, some of Stoppard's 1974 dialectic struggles to keep pace with the avant-garde.

With sensible set design, smart sound and light, and professional performances from all involved, the Lantern Theater creates a faithful production of a text-heavy play. Stoppard's relevance won't be fading any time soon. (His recent Leopoldstadt is off to a soaring start on Broadway.) If that means more TS revivals in Philly, we won't be disappointed.

Travesties runs at the Lantern Theater until October 9. Tickets are available online or from the box office at:

boxoffice@lanterntheater.org

215.829.0395

923 Ludlow St, Philadelphia, PA 19107


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