by Margaret Croyden
Margaret Croyden is a theater reviewer and essayist for the New York Theatre Wire.
Jumpers--Or is it "Sleepers"
by Tom Stoppard
Directed by David Leveaux
The Brooks Atkinson Theater
256 West 47th Street
Tel: 212-719 4099
opened April 24,2004
Reviewed by Margaret Croyden May 2, 2004
When one sees a Tom Stoppard play, one must be prepared not to understand what he is talking about. Tom Stoppard is your super intellectual, your super philosopher, your super-know it-all and your super bore. So much so that the show's press agents gave the critics a super package containing a line for line description of the plot of "Jumpers," and a long-winded and esoteric essay from another super mind, Benedict Nightingale, chief critic of the "London Times" who tries to tell us what "Jumpers" is all about. In addition there are interviews from the author and every member of the cast and production staff. The most important questions asked of everyone is "what do you think this play is about?" In my years reviewing, the press people have never given us such detailed information. Was it because they were afraid the critics would not get it? With "Jumpers" they may have been right. But that would be more the fault of Stoppard and his director than the critics.
True this play is difficult to describe because it such a mess.
Basically it is about this pompous, somewhat idiotic philosophy professor who throughout the play is dictating his paper for a scholarly convention. The topic in question is "Is there a God". And "what is good? And why do we want the good? And other such naive moral relativity questions. Plainly a lesson in philosophy 101. While dictating his paper, there are witty asides, numerous distractions, and sub plots. However the lesson in philosophy 101 continues. Which seems a static subject for a theater piece, particularly in view of today's interest in science and technology. So what is the point? The point is that Stoppard cannot resist telling us how clever, how educated, how erudite, he is. I suggest he write essays. Perhaps then he could make his point clear, one hopes.
Anyhow this professor is married to some creepy woman who acts and talks like Marilyn Monroe. Apparently she is an ex-performer, who looks like a hooker so one wonders what our professor is doing with her--they seem an unlikely couple. (Maybe that's the point) Then there is a murder of one of the Jumpers whose body is hidden in the wife's bedroom. Oh I forgot to mention there are a group of jumpers that open the play. What do they do? And why? Well they jump around the stage in some kind of acrobatic pattern and appear from time to time as symbols--of what? A radical group, the killers, the Establishment? Any guess is as good as any other.
Meanwhile as the professor continues to write his moral clap-trap, an investigator appears looking for the Jumper's murderer. The wife Dotty, appropriately named, appears to be increasingly more crazed; a lawyer enters who may or may not be the wife's ex-lover, and Dotty meanders about her life in a sorrowful voice but lies in bed all the while. When the policeman appears she gets herself together in a glamorous gown. And so it goes. Oh, I think I should mention that the professor is a poor lover, and seemingly impotent (no surprise) but he does loves his two pets, a tortoise and a hare, and they are part of the plot to illustrate some obscure point.
As to the cast: the illustrious and very hyped British actor Simon Russell Beale, who some consider one of Britain's great actors is, in this play, as tedious as the script. True, he has a tour de force role, almost a monologue which he mangers to rattle off without a stop for breath. In doing so, his articulation gets tangled up, his voice sometimes disappears, and his enunciation is unclear. The director ostensibly must have told him to be fast and furious. So Simon Russell Beale's voice is always on the same level, though he manages the laugh lines well enough. But the monotony of the play and the actor's voice droning on does in fact make for sleepy time and it is no wonder that some have called this Stoppard work "Sleepers." Now I know why.
The director is David Leveaux who could not make the play come alive. In London at the National Theater, it was a big hit: here in New York it may appeal to those who think that anything produced over THERE must be superior and meaningful. Especially if it is a Tom Stoppard work. But precisely because it is Stoppard, it is sure to be a bore. [Croyden]
Margaret Croyden's most recent book is "Conversations With Peter Brook, 1970-2000" published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
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