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Energetic and witty, this talky Stoppard might leave you feeling dumb

Wednesday, Oct 11 2006
It's hard not to walk out of a Tom Stoppard play and not feel poorly educated. During Travesties' 2 1/2 hours, Stoppard nimbly sprints through Marxism, socialism, dadaism, nihilism, imperialism, expressionism, and cubism, then wraps it all up with a nice big bow of absurdism. If these "isms" (along with the history of the Russian Revolution) don't jibe with your knowledge base, then 90 percent of the night's rapid-fire references will fly over your head. This 1974 work places three of the most influential minds of the 20th century — James Joyce, Lenin, and Tristan Tzara (dadaist founder) — together in World War I-era Zurich, whereupon they commence a literate and madcap farce of a discussion about the merits of art, revolution, and politics. ACT helmer Carey Perloff's production is disorienting at the start, with tremendous bookcases flying from the sky, but soon establishes a cartoon funhouse energy that matches Stoppard's smug wit. The verbally and physically dexterous cast is assembled from top-notch performance institutions (Canada's Shaw Festival and Cirque du Soleil), and the material is a delicious workout for the mind. Even so, the production and the much-lauded script feel somewhat soulless. Stoppard is either a friggin' genius or a pretentious, elitist snob; depending on which you believe, you'll leave the theater feeling either dumbfounded or simply dumb. — Nathaniel Eaton

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Nathaniel Eaton


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