Written by Tom Stoppard
Directed by by Robert S. Currier
My husband, Robert Currier, has always been a huge Stoppard fan. We’ve got a photograph in our dining room of him and the wonderful actor Jarion Monroe playing the lead roles in Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead.Bob quotes the box speech from that play almost as often as he quotes Oscar Wilde. He has lusted to do Stoppard in Marin for decades.
The success of our 2009 production of The Importance of Being Earnest, and the idea of a season of sequels — with Antony and Cleopatra following the 2009 Julius Caesar — emboldened Bob to choose Travesties for the 2010 season.
We think it was one of the classiest and cleverest productions we have ever staged. Bob’s brilliant casting, coupled with the Dada-inspired use of moving staircases, tables, and chairs and Bob’s addition of rhythmic movement and sound sequences fabulously built on Stoppard’s themes and style.
Limericks were choreographed and rehearsed ad nauseam; the tea party scene was “scored” with the sound of china, tea spoons, and moving bodies; and everyone loved seeing Lucas and Julian waltzing together towards the end of the play.
Stoppard is known for being a bit over-intellectual, even in his early plays, like Travesties, which are also highly theatrical. The lively staging — for example, the addition of a food fight during the long Carr / Tzara scene about war (a food fight that took place over and amidst moving staircases, tables, and on several different levels) — brought the themes to life in an incredibly fun and moving (pun intended) way.
The cast was built around a core group of actors who have become regulars at Marin Shakespeare over the past few seasons, including A-B-C-D: Alexandra Matthew, Bill Elsman, Cat Thompson, and Darren Bridgett. Along with Lucas McClure, these actors had all appeared in Earnest the summer before. Lenin look-alike Stephen Klum, Sharon Huff (whom we’d admired for years but who was in her Marin Shakespeare debut) and the always incredibly smart, funny, knowledgable, and scene-stealing Julian Lopez-Morillas rounded out a dream cast. What fun!
Let’s do more Stoppard again soon!
— Lesley Schisgall Currier
Tristan Tzara, Dada poet – Darren Bridgett*
Director – Robert S. Currier
* Member of Actor’s Equity Association
“Elsman’s Carr is a study in over-the-top buffoonery; he could stand to dial it down
sometimes, but where’s the fun in that?…
…Matthew makes a formidable Cecily….Artistic director Robert Currier’s madcap staging emphasizes the unnaturalness, but in such a zany way that you can’t help but chuckle….the cast on the whole is superb, including Lucas McClure’s deadpan Joyce, Stephen Klum’s stern Lenin, Sharon Huff as Lenin’s devoted wife Nadya and Julian Lopez-Morillas as Carr’s unflappable servant Bennett.
As Carr irresistibly observes, ‘It may be nonsense, but at least it’s clever nonsense.’”
— Sam Hurwitt, Marin IJ
“The Marin Shakespeare Company’s outdoor revival of this dense 1974 absurdist play deserves as many stars or plaudits a critic can bestow — and then some. Mounds of praise are especially fitting for the director, Robert Currier, who keeps words, action and laughs in a neck-and-neck-and-neck race, and the set designer, Mark Robinson, whose mobile staircases and bookshelves symbolically depict the turning, churning and re-turning of ideas.
Rubber-faced William Elsman perfectly captures the main character, diplomat Henry Carr, as both young man and old. He uses his entire body to enormous advantage, including a gymnastic tongue that doubles as a polisher of Stoppard’s gems and a prop.
Darren Bridgett, too, becomes a combo verbal and physical acrobat. He portrays Dada poet-founder Tristan Tzara, even managing to deliver more than a few lines while doing flips or balancing on his head….
This presentation — because there’s a tad less emphasis on the cerebral and a touch more on slapstick (particularly a couple of goofy food and seltzer fights) — is more accessible and more fun than the American Conservatory Theater version of four years ago.”
— Woody Weingarten, Marinscope
“The company’s production certainly gives Currier (known for his own bad-boy sense of humor) plenty of opportunities to dig deep and pull out all his tricks, and it is a testament to his inventive talents—and those of his first-rate cast—that this production is as entertaining as it is. Stoppard’s long, long soliloquies are made less endless by Currier’s staging, which occasionally involves staircases spinning across the stage as the actors deliver their detailed
speeches. At least there is something to look at. Currier has also added syncopated library bells, spinning clocks, food fights—and anything else he could think of to make things interesting.
The cast is equally energetic, from the reliably slaptickish Darren Bridgett as the certifiably odd Dadaist artist Tristan Tzara and Stephen Klum (brilliant) as Vladimir Lenin to Lucas McClure’s restrained James Joyce and Alexandra Matthew’s lit-loving librarian Cecily. As the central character of Henry Carr, the low-level English diplomat around whom the various characters interact, William Elsman is especially outrageous, leaping back in forth in time from his young days serving in Switzerland (when he once played a role in a production of Earnest), to the present, when his slightly senile brain can’t quite remember everything exactly the way it happened.
In the end, watching MSC’s Travesties is like watching people juggle fire while walking blindfold on a tightrope over a pit of hungry alligators. Whether done skillfully or not, the main entertainment comes from knowing that they are crazy to be doing it in the first place.”
— David Templeton, North Bay Bohemian
“Director Robert Currier has mounted this play as a truly physical, almost vaudevillian, comedy while sensitively paying attention to the intellectual content and artfully making
it accessible to a general audience.
The whimsical playings on the outdoor stage by some of the Bay Area’s best actors are magical and energetic….stage managers (called Dadaists) help with the rolling elements for scene changes. Their
costumes are whimsical, and their set choreography is technically flawless.
The most brilliant, and perhaps underused, performers are cast as prudish librarian Cecily (Alexandra Matthew), and Gwendolen, Carr’s cousin from Earnest (blazing redhead Cat Thompson).
But the star of the show, the one we cannot wait to come back on stage is the magnificent Julian Lopez-Morillas as Bennett, Carr’s manservant. He is obsequious, efficient and in total charge, even after he partakes of the rest of the wine.
Stoppard’s works are as complex as those of William Shakespeare and others who wrote before him. Director Currier, in the spirit of the Shakespearean tradition, seeks to explore new territory, especially in Stoppard’s opusTravesties. And he has provided a very clever production. If you need to pay attention to the playwright’s creative conceptualisms, the language is all there. And Currier’s staging makes it fun.”
— Albert Goodwyn, San Francisco Bay Times
“A Wild and Zany Production of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties
Marin Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Tom Stoppard’s witty farce Travesties is a real off the wall, lively version of his classic farce. This marks the fifth time I have seen this captivating play, starting with the Royal Shakespeare production at the Aldwych Theatre in London during the summer of 1974. This adaptation is like Disney meets Tom Stoppard—and I mean that in a good way….
This production opens with a brilliant tour de force of comic acting by William Elsman as Harry Carr, a British Consulate employee reminiscing through fuzzy and uproariously funny memories of his 1917 meeting with Joyce (Lucas McClure), the Russian revolutionary Lenin (Stephen Klum) and Tristan Tzara (Darren Bridgett).
Elsman gives a spellbinding performance dressed in a bathrobe and sounding like a vaudevillian twit from the Monty Python series. He dominates the stage in a 12-minute soliloquy.
Travesties is full of slapstick comedy, like Darren Bridgett coming onto the stage looking like John Cleese doing his funny walk from the Python series, or rolling around the stage while talking about the new art of the masses. There is a side-splitting World War I battle scene between William Elsman and Darren Bridgett….
The second act also has William Elsman playing an amusing Algernon Moncrieff in an uproarious scene with Alexandra Matthew wonderfully playing Cecily, a librarian. She is a marvelous character whose interest in literature is “strictly alphabetical” (“I have read only up to the letter ‘G’ and I know Gilbert but not Sullivan,” she tells Algernon). Also in the Ernest scenes is Gwendolyn, played stunningly by Cat Thompson.”
— Richard Connema, Talkin’ Broadway
“It’s like a comic, fevered dream, with blazing moments of philosophical insight and humor that border on the profound….Director Robert Currier’s staging of this challenging piece is brilliant. The play’s opening sequence is particularly striking: a syncopated rhythm of cane tapping, foot stomping, stamping, clicking and clacking is both mesmerizing and energizing. It builds the momentum of the story to come.
In scenes where time seems to be moving backwards, Currier uses repetition and a cuckoo clock to show where old Henry’s memory is slipping off the track. Currier’s work with the actors frees them to use their imaginations and creativity. At times they might step into the audience to help themselves to swigs of someone’s wine right from the bottle, or cookies to nibble onstage, as happened on opening night. If one suspects there may be a bit of improvisation here and there, one would be right.
Every member of the cast is superb….Marin Shakespeare Company’s “Travesties” at Forest Meadows is witty, complex and dynamic, a visual and intellectual feast. The figurative fireworks all too often soar right over the audience’s heads, but no matter – it’s pure, playful, wicked genius.”
— Suzanne Angeo, For All Events
“…the staging acting and directing are flawlessly integrated to create a “must see” production even though it runs two hours and forty minutes since the farcical intensity relieves the onslaught and is actually symbiotic with Stoppard’s intellectual wit.
William Elsman’s performance as Henry Carr the narrator and major character is a tour de force certain to garner a Bay Area Critic’s Award. His supporting cast of equity actors Alexandra Matthew, Lucas McClure, Stephen Klum, Julian Lopez-Morillas and Cat Thompson offer pitch perfect accompaniment to the entire evening and seem to have as much or more fun professed by director Currier.
Currier’s physical directorial touches are legion and his actors respond with ease, grace and fluid movement. You know you are in for a fun comedy/farce when unnamed major characters glide about the stage pushing mobile pieces of functional furniture, bookcases and staircases across the stage with Salvador Dali type clocks sharing wall space with a Cuckoo Clock that, at appropriate times, bursts out with a ‘Cuckoo’ commenting on the action and words.”
— Kedar Adour, For All Events
“A few weekends back, in search of openair entertainment outside the city, I ventured up to sleepy San Rafael for the season opener at Marin Shakespeare. My main objective was to see, for the first time in years, a live production of Tom Stoppard’s 1976 play, Travesties. But I was also eager to get out of San Francisco just ahead of the 6 o’clock fog and spend a July evening in a sun-soaked amphitheatre. For those of us who grew up in places where summer actually happens, it’s natural to get the occasional craving for something so simple as a warm night.
Both the play and the setting gave me what I wanted. Marin Shakespeare’s facilities are a good deal less slick than the brand-new complex at Cal Shakes, but both companies pursue fairly ambitious programs in idyllic surroundings. And with the possible exception of Marin Shakespeare’s decision to stage The Taming of the Shrew aboard a pirate ship, neither company shows much sign of pandering to a lazy summertime crowd….
Much of the credit goes to director Robert Currier, who stages the action with as much vigor and wit as Stoppard’s text demands. He’s helped tremendously by Mark Robinson’s playful set, which includes four different staircases on wheels — a constantly shifting landscape that’s just right for a mind-bending farce….
You are, however, liable to have a ridiculous amount of fun, especially if you’re anything resembling a theater geek. And you can’t help but admire the company’s willingness to tackle such a difficult piece. ‘It may be nonsense,’ Carr acknowledges to Tzara, ‘but at least it is clever nonsense.’
Better yet, it’s clever nonsense perfectly suited to a late-summer evening in the North Bay, with not a wisp of fog in sight.”
— Chris Jensen, S. F. Weekly
“Tom Stoppard is unstoppable and so is Robert Currier who directs this erudite playwright with such vaudevillian brio that super-long monologues about esoteric concerns from a forgotten past are as comprehensible as celebrity gossip. Travesties is a lot more entertaining, however, and the celebs being skewered all keep their wits about them.
The situation is pure Oscar Wilde, as are some of the clever lines, but the work is Stoppard, his gift for playful intellectualism is on full show in this soufflé that keeps on rising until the curtain falls.
One of Bay Area’s finest actors, William Ellsman, makes it all look easy as he sketches out civil servant Henry Carr’s testy relationship with some of the historic names of 1917 Zurich. Ellsman alternates between a senile old bore –although this actor is never boring– and a young dandy full of himself….
In this riveting production, the sheer number of ideas–intellectual and ridiculous—may exhaust you, but you will never be at a loss. Director Currier, and his actors, make Travesties, flow like wine.”
–Lee Brady, Pacific Sun