A.E.I.O.U.

The Invention of Love

Two Ages of Housman: James Cromwell (right) with Jason Butler Harner.
Kevin Berne
Two Ages of Housman: James Cromwell (right) with Jason Butler Harner.

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By Tom Stoppard. Directed by Carey Perloff. Produced by the American Conservatory Theater. Starring James Cromwell, Jason Butler Harner, Garret Dillahunt, and Steven Anthony Jones. Scenery by Loy Arcenas. At the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), through Feb. 13. Admission is $11-55; call 749-2228

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The Invention of Love resonates through a half-dozen layers of meaning; Stoppard nests puns in his scenes as well as in his dialogue. Wilde appears not just as Wilde but also as Bunthorne, a Gilbert & Sullivan character based on Wilde; Housman's school friends row a boat along a river that could be the Styx or the Thames, and morph into the characters of Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog). Who was Jerome? Well, he precipitated Wilde's downfall by accusing him of being a sodomite. These bits of trivia don't drive the story -- you don't need to know them -- but Carey Perloff's production pays attention to their nuances, and the result is a quietly powerful show.

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