Noted for his seminal work, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard's Travesties receives a frenetic revival at Roundabout Theatre
"It may be nonsense, but at least it's clever nonsense"
So says Tom Stoppard's lead, Henry Carr, in Travesties. In doing so, inadvertently or not, he offers what may be the most succinct summary of this work. The play, currently showing at the American Airlines Theatre as part of Roundabout's Spring Season, is a font of historical minutiae, literary criticism, pontification on the meaning of art, and wordplay so athletic it could be in the Olympics. And yet for all its undeniable, sparkling brilliance, you can't help but wonder what it was all for when you leave the theatre.
Set in Zürich in 1917, the play follows Henry Carr (Tom Hollander), an elderly man who reminisces about his time in the consular service during the First World War. He recants interactions with James Joyce (Peter McDonald) who at that time was writing Ulysses, Tristan Tzara (Seth Numrich) who was enjoying rise of Dada, and Lenin (Dan Butler) who was surfing the lead up to the Russian Revolution. All of them were in Zurich in this time period, and the play shows a world in which Carr becomes a focal point for them all whilst starring as Algernon in a production of The Importance of Being Earnest. All of this is processed through the framing device of Henry's gradually worsening senility, which occasionally gives way from actual events and breaks in to his bizarre dreamlike interpretation of them.
Photo: Joan Marcus
Patrick Marber directs this blisteringly-paced revival of the 1974 Stoppard standard, and he and the cast's understanding of the the material and its needs is undeniable. Stoppard's impossibly intelligent and voluminous dialogue is given it's full day in the yard, and is expertly thrown out with the Wildean grace it demands. The script's absurdly theatrical interjections (which include a literary striptease and a musical argument) are meticulously over-produced to the point where bombastic seems like too small a word to describe them. The characters are broad stroke archetypes that are alternately taken to pantomimic extremes and mined for exquisite detail. From topper to tailcoat this revival is a masterpiece of practical stagecraft, however the question still remains as to what the purpose of the show is.
"Patrick Marber takes Stoppard's impossibility and forms it in to an enviable surreality"
Much of it appears to boil down to the discussions that take place within the play between Carr, Joyce, and Tzara about the nature of art. Hollander, McDonald and Numrich each belt out their characters' arguments with the ferocity of a Sex Pistols concert. In doing so they pose the question for each other, as well as the audience, as to whether art should have meaning or not. Stoppard appears to agree and disagree with all parties. Travesties as a work is full to the brim with fact, fiction, and meaning beyond the ken of even its most intelligent characters. The playwright offers thoughts on the Russian revolution, the politics of Switzerland, patronage, the consular service, the horrors of World War One, turn of the century fashion, and much much more. Yet in doing so he offers no moral of any sort for the audience to leave with, or any grander emotional purpose for the piece. One leaves feeling satiated, empowered, and in a state of marvel at what can be done in a theatre, and yet also incomplete, emotionally lost, and unsatisfied. It's brilliant.
Photo: Joan Marcus
Travesties' marketing suggests a British comedian in the mold of a Cowardian farce, and yet it delivers an experience of intellectual anarchy that strips the viewer of all pretense and asks them to question exactly why it is they feel the need to go to theatre in the first place. It almost feels like a practical joke. For the discerning theatre-goer it is a must-have ticket. Hollander as Carr is a modern acting genius. Numrich as Tzara takes the word ballistic and claims it as his own. Sara Topham and Scarlett Strallen as Cecily and Gwendolen, respectively, will make you want to shoot anyone who says women aren't funny. McDonald embodies the poet Joyce with a quiet ferocity that both allures and terrifies. Butler is a perfect Lenin; and Opal Alladin and Patrick Kerr round out the cast in a way that seems to be in every way the theatrical personification of absolute perfection. Patrick Marber takes Stoppard's impossibility and forms it in to an enviable surreality. Go and see Travesties.
Thomas Burns Scully is a PopDust contributor, and also an award-winning actor, playwright, and musician. In his spare time he writes and designs escape rooms. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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