In his stage directorial debut, Montreal’s Jacob Tierney (The Trotsky, Good Neighbours) brought Tom Stoppard‘s 1974 play, Travesties, to life with gusto at the Segal Centre on opening night this past Thursday.
Travesties offers a healthy mix of true, fictional and misremembered events as recounted by Henry Carr. He really did live in Zurich, knew James Joyce (who was writing Ulysses at the time) and went to court with him over the cost of a pair of trousers. Expanding from there, in an homage to Oscar Wilde’s comedic style and The Importance of Being Ernest, Stoppard has the historical figures of Lenin and Nadya, Dadaist Tristan Tzara, Joyce and the repeat victims of mistaken identity comedy, Cecily and Gwendolen, meet against the backdrop of the safe haven of artists, revolutionaries and pacifists that was Zurich in 1917.
“I learned three things in Zurich during the war. Firstly, you’re either a revolutionary, or you’re not, and if you’re not you might as well be an artist as anything else. Secondly, if you can’t be an artist, you might as well be a revolutionary… I forgot the third.” Henry Carr in Travesties.
The humour in this play is wordy and highbrow in a way that requires you to pay attention to catch it all. The lines come at you fast and some jokes were buried a little deeper in layers of wit, in the lyric of a limerick, in the nuance of a word-play. In today’s culture where comedy is often so obvious or spelled out for us, this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Where else will you get lines poking fun at dadaism by referring to it as the highest point in European art, topographically? Because they were in the Alps, see? …see? Ha!
Greg Ellwand’s portrayal of Henry Carr was not only skilled and funny in its own right, but also appealed to a sort of referred affection for characters of whom he was reminiscent, a combination of the lecherous stylings of Benny Hill with a dash of a more innocent and goofy John Astin. He received a well deserved standing ovation on opening night.
Martin Sims as Tzara was absurd, as he was meant to be. Jon Lachlan Stewart as Bridget, or Jane, no…Joyce(!) was delightful. Cecily’s (Chala Hunter) library ladder striptease will not soon be forgotten, and Daniel Lillford (Lenin) and Ellen Davis (Nadya) expressed a subtle and unexpected sense of humour in their respective roles. Anne Cassar as Gwendolen Carr, and Pierre Brault as Bennett the Butler were spot on.
Where the first act felt a bit heavy, the second picked up quickly and kept it up. Go alert and caffeinated to fully enjoy your experience. For tickets and showtimes, click here.
Travesties at the Segal Centre (5170 ch. de la Côte-Ste-Catherine). April 12 to May 3, 2015. Students: $24.50; $44-$59.