When a play starts with a half-hour monologue from a frail old man who looks like a gentle breeze might turn him to dust, you begin to think this is going to be a long, long evening.
But after just a few moments, Marcus Truschinski got us into the rhythm, and off we went into the American Players Theatre production of Tom Stoppard's "Travesties," a story that had the ring of truth.
The old man is Henry Carr, a bureaucrat in the British consulate in Zurich. The story is his memory of the Swiss city in 1917, when it was home to James Joyce, in the midst of writing "Ulysses"; Lenin, who was on the eve of the Russian revolution; and Tristan Tzara, the father of the anti-art art form of Dada.
These three men's stories are told through the prism of Carr’s memories, and Truschinski switches between the old Carr and the young, vibrant man who is cast in a production of "The Importance of Being Earnest," the Oscar Wilde play being staged by Joyce.
Stoppard wrote a play that seems almost to be a sequel to the Wilde play, with similarities between the characters and the storylines in both plays. If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is. But trying to keep it straight in your mind is both unnecessary and futile.
It’s best to just sit back and let these characters tell you marvelous and very funny stories. The play is a comedy that touches on the familiar themes of Stoppard’s work: class struggles, censorship, patriotism, human rights and the power of words. At its heart is a lengthy and unresolved debate about the value and practice of art.
Director William Brown, who also directed the APT's production of "Earnest" this season, has created a vehicle that is both funny and serious, all at the same time. And the deep well of talent at APT takes everything Brown throws out and runs with it delightfully.
Truschinski leads the way as Carr (as well as a carbon of Algernon from "Earnest"). It seems hard to believe that he is in his 11th season at APT, but he has grown into an actor of immeasurable stature and delight. He has the kind of face that can tell a story without a single word being spoken, and he has matured into a serious force on stage.
But he is not alone in this one.
Matt Schwader plays Tzara with all the earnest guile you would expect from an art form pioneer. His determination to Dada-fy the world is so funny, you are in danger of missing some dialogue because you are laughing so hard. Not to be outdone in the earnestness department, Eric Parks delivers a Lenin full of the darkness that gave birth to a revolution. And Nate Burger gives Joyce the genius mixed with Irish longshoreman that makes his a character to idolize and laugh with.
The show is clearly about the four men, but the women in this production almost steal the stage.
Christina Panfilio plays Gwendolyn who is helping Joyce write his book, Kelsey Brennan plays the librarian who helps Lenin with his research and Carolyn Hoerdemann holds Lenin’s hand as his wife, Nadya.
Brown has created a complete production here, but he's also added moments that envelope the audience in joy and admiration. Four-part poetry makes an appearance, but the most striking repartee comes in a song sung by Panfilio and Brennan.
The original music by Andrew Hansen is on full display as the two women deliver a back and forth song that takes them from mere acquaintances to friends rivals in love and life. The song drew the loudest and most applause of the night, and deservedly so.
Truschinski and Brennan also brought the house down when she did a sexy striptease and the 1917 version of a lap dance that left Truschinski speechless, motionless and senseless.
Just like everything else in this production, that dance mixed sex with humor and with a serious example of humanity.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Sept. 18, 2014
The Dale Gutzman version of "Cabaret," which opened Wednesday night and runs through Sept. 28, is a dark retelling of a story that mixed sex, violence, longing and fear into two and half hours of mesmerizing theater. The menace of the play at Off the Wall Theatre is as intimate as any I have seen before.
Published Sept. 18, 2014
How many teams have players in their locker rooms who are in the kind of trouble currently dogging the NFL and that the teams are hiding with fingers crossed that they don't lose a player to suspension?
Published Sept. 18, 2014
Common Ground has an initiative called "Fair Play" that's designed to spark a significant improvement in school and public recreational facilities in Milwaukee County. It's a worthy initiative for the increasingly influential grassroots lobbying organization. But Dave Begel says it's blackmail.
Published Sept. 16, 2014
This has been a difficult week for the National Football League, the most popular sport in the country, by far. And the affairs of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Roger Goodell have raised a series of questions and which may be difficult to answer, but which deserve our best try at answers.
Published Sept. 15, 2014
Deborah Staples is an actor and an associate artist at the Milwaukee Rep. She is at the absolute top of her game and delivers memorable performances wherever she appears. It would seem that with her career and her family, there would be no room left. However, she has begun to scale a new mountain in her life as she steps behind the footlights to direct her first play.
Published Sept. 14, 2014
Sometimes stepping off the beaten path, or outside of the mainstream, can be fraught with peril but on occasion it can turn into a wonderful surprise and you pat yourself on the back for taking the big step. Such was my reaction after stepping into the deliciously tiny space of Theatre Unchained in order to see the production of "The Addams Family Musical."
Published Sept. 13, 2014
We may not have movie stars like California, oranges like Florida or corn like Iowa, but Wisconsin has a long list of excellent stuff we've given to the rest of the world. Here are the top 13 things that carry the "Made in Wisconsin" tag.
Published Sept. 12, 2014
The little Alchemist Theatre space is one of the real jewels in this city, and it comes alive in an amazing fashion with "Destiny, Deviltry & Dentistry," a hilarious collection of sketches running through Sept. 20.
Published Sept. 11, 2014
Political correctness has intruded on one of the most precious pillars of our government, a pillar that was embraced at the very beginning of this country.
Published Sept. 9, 2014
The Milwaukee Brewers can still run and hit and pitch and throw and catch as well as they ever could, but they aren't doing any of those things even decently now. And I think it's the fault of the manager.