Saturday, April 7, 2018


Last night, I saw Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Tom Stoppard's wonderful play Travesties.

The play is an extremely witty farce Stoppard wrote after reading a biography of James Joyce. Stoppard was fascinated by a brief account of Joyce taking part in a production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest in Zurich, Switzerland during the First World War.

Peter McDonald plays Joyce in this production, and pulls off both the ridiculous sight gags and the occasional magic trick Stoppard's script requires him to perform. The protagonist of the play, however, is not Joyce, but Henry Carr, who worked for the British Consulate at the time and was recruited to play the lead in Earnest. (As Travesties mentions repeatedly, the lead is not Earnest, but "the other one.")

Tom Hollander plays Carr, and it's easy to see why he received an Olivier Award nomination when he played the role in London. (This production, directed by Patrick Marber, was originally done at the Menier Chocolate Factory, which previously transferred a revival of Sunday in the Park with George to Roundabout.) Carr begins the play as an old man, remembering not just Joyce, but also the communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin and the dadaist poet Tristan Tzara, who as it so happens, were also in Zurich at the same time as Joyce.

Dan Butler plays Lenin, and Seth Numrich plays the monocle-wearing Tzara, who flirts wildly with a young woman named Gwendolyn (who by chance has been helping Joyce as he writes Ulysses). Gwendolyn is not a historical figure, and her resemblance to the character of the same name in The Importance of Being Earnest is not coincidental. As the play proceeds, we quickly perceive that Carr has gotten quite a bit mixed up in his head, and his memories cannot be entirely relied upon. Scarlett Strallen, who plays Gwendolyn, can more than be relied upon, however. An alumna of such farcical comedies as A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, she's very much in her element in Travesties.

The same is also true of Sara Topham, who plays the librarian Cecily, another character who appears to have walked out of The Importance of Being Earnest and into Carr's memory. Topham played the title role in Saint Joan at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake last summer, and she was also quite memorable as Beatrice-Joanna in Red Bull's production of The Changeling the year before that. In Travesties, she shows remarkable versatility, performing a racy table-top dance in Carr's imagination, and then later appearing as an old woman who helps to set the historical record straight.

Tickets for Travesties are on sale through the middle of June, so book now. It's rare to get a chance to see this Stoppard gem, and even more rare to see it performed this well!