Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Travesties at ACT

I caught the Sunday matinee of Tom Stoppard's 1974 Travesties at ACT. I'm not a big fan of ACT, but curiosity about the play got the better of me. The play is pretty crazy. It's a debate about the role of the artist in society in the form of a theatrical farce. It seems like to get anything out of it, the audience has to be very familiar with The Importance of Being Ernest, James Joyce's Ulysses, Shakespeare, Dada, the history of the Russian Revolution & World War I. & I'm sure there were other ideas in there that went right over my head!

The production was somewhat abstract. It starts with a completely blank, white stage. Props & sets fly in, glide in from the wings or rise from the below. From time to time a large circular map of Europe slides along suspended from the procenium. The library has book shelves floating in space at improbable angles & upside-down. Cartoon sound effects might accompany a bit of business. I'm not sure that this struck the right note, though. I suppose that this all reflects the highly artificial construction of the play, but I wonder if it would have been more interesting to stage it as if it were in fact a traditional farce. Then there would be the tension between the apparently conventional trappings of a drawing room comedy & the highly charged political & philosophical themes of the play.

Whenever I go to an ACT show, I'm struck by how the audience seems somewhat elderly. I also find myself wishing the performances were crisper. It's like I want to tell the actors, "Wake up! There are people out here!"

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