There are two extremely generalized ways to enjoy theater. One is to sit back for two hours and enjoy a simple production with an easy plot line. The other invites audience members to sit and intently listen to an intellectually stirring and dazzlingly threaded story. Bay Street’s production of Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties” leans toward the second method.
“Travesties” follows the thoughts and memories, which are more often than not figments of his incredible imagination and dreams, of Henry Carr, played by Richard Kind. Carr, now an old man, lives in Switzerland in 1974. He reminisces about his time spent on the battlefield, until his injury in the French trenches. After his injury, he falsely remembers his appointment as British Consul in Zurich for the remainder of World War I.
His high position brought him into contact with three extremely influential figures in Switzerland during the time—Tristan Tzara, James Joyce, and Vladimir Lenin. Carr’s fantasized memory is loosely influence by his role in “The Importance of Being Earnest” produced by James Joyce. Stoppard uses this real life fact to explore art, war, and political ideals through brilliant language, satire, puns, and references to literature of the time.
Richard Kind’s portrayal of Henry Carr is exuberant, over the top, and dynamic. At times, it feels as though Kind reaches for a level too fantastic, but the whole point Stoppard makes in “Travesties” relies on that. The script rather nicely ties in Carr’s humanity through the reality of the situation—his old age and dwindling memory while revisiting old memories at a feeble attempt to discover his importance in this old lonely life he now leads.
Michael Benz gives an exciting performance in his role of Tristan Tzara, the father of Dada. Benz exhibits the radical nature of Tzara’s character through harsh and descriptive insults hurled at fellow characters from a tufted ottoman at center stage and
his incessant snipping of metal scissors, one of the tools he uses most often in the creation of his nonsensical poetry. At one point, Joyce briefly sums up Tzara as “an overexcited little man with a need for self-expression far beyond the scope of his natural gifts.”
Carson Elrod portrays the Irish writer, James Joyce, who pits himself against Tzara in arguments over literary style and general ideals. Elrod brilliantly plays a Joyce who is both human and fantastic in near perfect balance.
Aloysius Gigl plays Bennet, Carr’s butler. Bennet adds seriousness to what is intended to be a comedy/satire by casting off his views on a wide range of international issues. Isabel Keating plays Nadya, Lenin’s dignified wife. Julia Motyka portrays Gwendolyn Carr, Henry Carr’s younger sister, Joyce’s secretary and transcriber, and Tzara’s love interest. Emily Trask plays the young and active librarian reading as much poetry as possible in alphabetical order of authors. Lastly, Andrew Weems plays a marvelous Lenin, of whom we learn much through his writings read by Henry Carr.
Bay Street’s production of “Travesties” is well directed and well executed for a play that is so fast paced and farcical. If the audience is well read and quick witted, they are in for a wonderful spectacle and brilliantly written play.
“Travesties” will stage every night but Mondays at Bay Street Theater from now until Sunday, July 20. On Sundays and Tuesdays, the play begins at 7 p.m., all other nights at 8 p.m., and matinees are Sunday and Wednesday at 2 p.m. Tickets begin at $60.75. With a high school or college ID, the matinee shows are free.
Bay Street Theater is located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call 631-725-9500 or visit www.baystreet.org.