It may be easier to inventory what the Broadway revival of Tom Stoppard's 1974 tour de force isn't about than what it is: A gushing waterfall of wordplay, a fine-tuned literary torrent that only begins by covering love, sex, war, memory, and Marxism. Also James Joyce, Dada, the fine art of men's tailoring, and The Importance of Being Earnest.
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Only a playwright as brilliantly inventive as Stoppard could put all that together to come up with an uproarious work that seriously questions the nature of art. He tells the story through the eyes of Henry Carr (Tom Hollander, delightfully zany) a real-life British diplomat we first meet as a doddering old man in rumpled robe and crumpled straw hat, fighting through his senility to recall these people who invaded his life.
Senility is a joy ride in the exultant, London-born revival of Tom Stoppard's "Travesties," which opened on Tuesday night at the American Airlines Theater. This account of a clash of three cultural titans - James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin and the Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara - in Zurich during World War I is related decades later by an ancient witness (one Henry Carr, of the British Consulate). His recollection is, to put it kindly, capricious.
Don't expect anything resembling a linear plot inTravesties, which also features Carr's erudite butler (Patrick Kerr), Lenin's harried wife (Opal Alladin) and a giddy pair of ladies named for Wilde's characters Gwendolenand Cecily (Scarlett Strallen and Sara Topham), but a merrily disjointed mix of political, social and artistic commentary flavored with verbal dexterity and tuneful music hall exuberance. If brevity is the soul of wit, then 75 minutes without an intermission might be the soul of absurdist theatre, so at two and a half hours the madness of Travesties can get a little maddening. But stay alert and the charming company will guide you through an evening that can tickle your intellect as well as your funny bone.
Good luck making sense of "Travesties," Tom Stoppard's difficult, diffuse and dense 1974 comedy of faulty memory and early 20th century European history and culture, which has returned to Broadway in a robust revival produced originally by London's Menier Chocolate Factory and brought to New York by the Roundabout Theatre Company.'
Tom Stoppard's 1974 play "Travesties," which opened Tuesday at Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre in a spirited, quick-paced revival, is a showcase for modern theater's ultimate teacher's pet.
The facets of Stoppard's jewellike play are overwhelmingly, even ostentatiously brilliant; the Irish Joyce is introduced in a scene that is written as a series of limericks. Yet in Patrick Marber's well-judged and high-spirited revival, which the director first staged in London in 2016 (with Hollander and McDonald), the result is inviting rather than snobbishly exclusive, and the structural and verbal dazzle are offset with subtle suggestions of elegy. Even if you can't solve it all as you watch, it's a pleasure to engage with a production that does Travesties full justice.
That about-face joke perfectly captures Stoppard's wry humor. But it also illustrates his back-handed way of questioning (or is it mocking?) his own artistic attempt to address the subject of war within the context of farce. What's funny about war; or, for that matter, what's funny about social revolution, which both claim human lives? Even when the artist dares to grapple with such a question, doesn't it all seem like, well, a Dadaist joke?
Tom Stoppard's Tony-winning 1974 play Travesties, stuffed thick as a English gentleman's armchair, its ideas on art, war, patriotism and purposeful nonsense fashioned into a nonstop tourney of wit and erudition, has often been called a brainteaser, but brain tickler comes so much closer to the jubilant staging presented by Broadway's Roundabout Theatre Company.
Broadway's spry revival of "Travesties" is guaranteed to work your gray matter. Its author is brainy British playwright Tom Stoppard; that's how he rolls. The happy bonus of the brightly acted Roundabout production at the American Airlines Theater is how often the 1974 comedy engages one's smile muscles.
You don't have to enroll for a graduate degree to enjoy Tom Stoppard's simultaneously wacky and intellectual 1974 comedy, now being given its first-ever Broadway revival by the Roundabout Theater Company. That's largely due to the accessible nature of director Patrick Marber's rollickingly staged production, which garnered raves for its London stints at the Menier Chocolate Factory and the West End. The handy crib sheet provided in the program doesn't hurt either.
Travesties lays all their intellectual roustabouts on thick, studded with delightful moments of confrontation and simple confusion. Limericks pop out of mouths, sections of the play come in Joycean rhyme, the acting comes with gleeful sides of ham.
Director Patrick Marber must be commended for enlivening the high-brow farce with delightfully madcap interludes. The performances are striking. The ability alone to memorize and recite all that madcap material is impressive enough. But these multi-talented thespians do it with such zesty effortlessness, they make it all seem like so much fun.