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 Â 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 Carrâ€™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, thatâ€™s because it is. But trying to keep it straight in your mind is both unnecessary and futile.
Itâ€™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 Stoppardâ€™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 Leninâ€™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 April 30, 2016
Playwright August Wilson is famous for his 10-play cycle examining the experience of black people in the United States, and none of his plays stands as revered as "Fences," which The Rep opened Friday night
Published April 29, 2016
A play about life in the theater, a life full of ups and downs and in betweens, is sometimes a shaky thing, trying to connect with an audience that may or may not have the inside knowledge that you need to get all the jokes.
Published April 28, 2016
In our lust to keep Milwaukee a happy place for millions of millennials, are we going to get stuck with a bunch of buildings that look like they belong in a Saturday morning cartoon?
Published April 26, 2016
Several Milwaukee theaters - from The Rep to First Stage to Next Act and more - have become crusaders for the world around them, staging productions and activities that try to shed light on a wide variety of social issues.
Published April 23, 2016
Place. Play. Performance. When all three P's are there, a night at the theater can turn into magic, and that's what you get at "Ernest in Love" that opened at In Tandem Theatre Friday night.
Published April 21, 2016
Everybody in Wisconsin was all worked up about the presidential primary races a couple of weeks ago but the race between Sen. Ron Johnson and former Sen. Russ Feingold could have a lasting impact on the balance of power in Washington.
Published April 19, 2016
The recent staging of the touching hit musical "Once" that played a week at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts raised an issue that some people think is important to the quality of a production.
Published April 16, 2016
For a master class on how to put a drunk scene on stage, let me recommend "Fallen Angels," the Noel Coward drawing room comedy that opened Friday night at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
Published April 16, 2016
Hotel rooms are expanding with openings imminent or on the drawing board for the near future. Perhaps the one drawing the most attention is the Klimpton Journeyman Hotel, scheduled to open in the Historic Third Ward in June.
Published April 14, 2016
A hero has to step forward to save the city somewhere around $2 million after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the city in its battle with Silk Exotic over opening a strip club Downtown.