by Eric Rauchway
We went to see Tom Stoppard's Travesties at ACT over the weekend. It was, per ACT usual, a brilliant production. Herewith some thoughts about its arguments on art, including the question: Does Travesties (first staged 1974) still need its second act?
Travesties takes off from the apparently true tale of a British diplomatic official, Henry Carr, starring in a production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest staged by James Joyce in Zürich during the Great War. Stoppard noted that Tristan Tzara, the Dadaist, and V. I. Lenin, the revolutionary, were also in town at about the same time, and took off from there, crossing a play of ideas about art with farcical dialogue and devices from Earnest.
The play is an argument about what art and artists are for; and Stoppard says that in it, "various voices of my own which were on a collision course made up whole scenes." The first act consists mostly of a duel between Tzara and Joyce. And although the program makes much of Stoppard's even-handedness, Joyce, the modernist craftsman, was clearly fated to defeat Tzara, the anti-artist. (Tzara "wasn't speaking for me at all," Stoppard said, though "I found what [he] had to say quite interesting in some curious way.")