Chicago Theatre Review
My Heart Belongs to Dada
Travesties – Remy Bumppo
In a surreal mixture of Monty Pythonesque characters, Oscar Wilde wordplay and Marx Brothers’ situations, Tom Stoppard’s Tony Award-winning 1976 classic comedy bizarrely melds together the historic personages of Lenin, James Joyce and the Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara. Setting his play in 1917 Zurich, Switzerland, Stoppard places Henry Carr, a British civil servant Everyman who, like the audience, spends the play simply trying to keep pace with all the lightning-paced goings on. Heavily peppered with characters, scenes and dialogue ripped from “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Stoppard’s comedy is sharp, biting, unpredictable and laced with limericks and Gilbert & Sullivan-inspired ditties.
Artistic Director Nick Sandys has staged this production, a play he calls “the Mount Everest of think theatre,” with precision and energy. From the very first scene, hilariously performed in several different languages, the pacing resembles a frantic footrace, ramping up and continuing through till the intermission; and then Act II opens with a flourish, again resuming steam, and then racing on toward the finish line. While audiences needn’t be experts in the works of Tzara or Joyce, or even know much about the politics of Lenin, an appreciation of and familiarity Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” will offer the playgoer an added level of enjoyment. Mr. Sandys has a beautiful, continually-changing Victorian drawing room, designed by Joe Schermoly, on which to orchestrate his production. Beautifully lit by Andrew Meyers, with an original score and sound design created by Victoria (Toy) Deiorio, the production is sumptuously costumed by Rachel Lambert.
Jeff Cummings is captivating and eloquent as Henry Carr. His mastery of Stoppard’s incredibly long, challenging speeches and monologues seem effortless and empathetic. Mr. Cummings is skilled at mining every ounce of humor from this performance. Greg Matthew Anderson, so wonderful in a number of Remy Bumppo’s past productions, is once again superb in the role of Dada poet, Tristan Tzara. His quick dialogue, razor-sharp comic timing and electrifying characterization is delightful. He’s matched by Chicago character actor James Houton, puckishly intellectual as a most humorous James Joyce, and Keith Neagle, accomplished, powerful and thoroughly captivating as Lenin.
Lovely Kelsey Brennan and Meg Warner are especially enchanting in this play, with their lovely crisp, upper class British accents. They prove to be top notch comedic actresses as Gwendolyn and Cecily, and sparkle incandescently in Stoppard’s version of the famous tea party scene from “…Earnest.” Trying to top each other, all the while spewing forth girlish banter and civilized threats, both ladies turn in standout performances in this production. Jodi Kingsley makes a strong impression in her Remy Bumppo debut as Nadya, and the always impressive Scott Olson is delightfully droll as Carr’s manservant, Bennett.
The delicious wordplay and surreal, ever-evolving plot devices of Tom Stoppard’s theatrical puzzle provide a challenging evening of entertainment for the smart playgoer. In this rambunctious, frantically energetic production, Nick Sandys offers audiences the opportunity to leave behind trivial entertainments and to revel in a play that demands almost as much from the theatergoer as it does from its talented cast. An evening well-spent unravelling the two-faced travesties of Remy Bumppo’s production will convince audiences that their hearts truly do belong to Dada.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 30-May 3 by Remy Bumppo at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-404-7336 or by going to www.RemyBumppo.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.