Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Dada, what did you do in the war?. . .

I celebrated St. Patrick's Day by having a bit of an encounter with the Irish, although a few countries removed. Last night I saw Soulpepper's production of Tom Stoppard's very challenging play Travesties, which imagines James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin and Tristan Tzara in 1917 Zurich. Joyce is working on Ulysses; Lenin is working on a book about imperialism and trying to get back to Russia and the revolution and Tzara is creating poetry out of random words pulled out of a hat and establishing the Dada movement. Commenting on it all is Henry Carr, who works in the British consul and has a tiny footnote in Joyce's bio - he took part in a production of Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, organized by Joyce, and later was involved in a lawsuit over the cost of a pair of trousers. Stoppard makes the most of this quirky encounter and inserts some of Wilde's best lines right into the context of Travesties.
Oh, the whole play is brilliant - non-stop verbal puns and in jokes about artistic movements, political schemes and some very poignant and observant bits about the war. Wonderful language to listen to, and I'm very impressed that Soulpepper tackled this play. It wasn't an outstanding production - in particular the weak link was David Storch who played Joyce somewhat cutsy - he reminded me of a leprechaun challenging his inner Lytton Strachey. But the rest of the cast was very good, even if their accents, alas, tended to roam all over the European map. The set and lighting were gorgeous and the director added a clip from a 1920s surrealist movie that opened the show very effectively. A great start to Soulpepper's ambitious season. I'm looking forward to their next offering - David Mamet's great Glengarry Glen Ross.

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