August 22, 2014

Before the performance...

Untitled

... of "Travesties" at the American Players Theater the other night. This play was so good — as a text and as a performance — that the next day I bought tickets to see it again. And I also bought tickets to see "The Importance of Being Earnest" a couple days before the second viewing of "Travesties." The 2 plays are related, and some of the actors play corresponding roles in the 2 plays. I'd seen "The Importance of Being Earnest" (in movie form) long ago, so I got the hang of the references, but not all the particularity. "Earnest" is playing in the outdoor theater at APT, "Travesties" indoors.

I was so taken with "Travesties" that I even bought the text. It's one of these plays about art, and I love art about art. What is art? I'm entranced by all sorts of blabbing on this subject, especially wrangling with the problem of art and politics — propaganda and all that — and "Travesties" has Vladimir Lenin as one of the characters. Lenin says things like:
Today, literature must become party literature. Down with non-partisan literature! Down with literary supermen! Literature must become a part of the common cause of the proletariat, a cog in the Social democratic mechanism. Publishing and distributing centres, bookshops and reading rooms, libraries and similar establishments must all be under party control. We want to establish and we shall establish a free press, free not simply from the police, but also from capital, from careerism, and what is more, free from bourgeois anarchist individualism!
Lenin actually wrote that. The playwright (Tom Stoppard) worked it into the script, which isn't all horrific blowharding like that, there's a lot of absurd banter and mistaken identity and various hijinks of a theatrical kind. Lenin is a minor character. James Joyce is more important, and the Dadaist Tristan Tzara.

Speaking of evil dictators — who never wear shorts and flip-flops, by the way — I got around to watching that 2004 movie "Downfall," you know, the raw material for all those Hitler parodies. It's heavy going, 156 minutes, mostly in the bunker. The familiar scene isn't the ending. It's quite close to the beginning.

27 comments:

rcocean said...

Sounds interesting. Funniest line in Lenin's article:

"Far be it from us to advocate any kind of standardized system, or a solution by means of a few decrees."

Haha. Vlad must have forgotten that line when he took power in 1917.

rcocean said...

From the NYT's review:

"Unfortunately, Carr’s wordless stretching and yawning may be expressing the feelings of a good part of the audience. Mr. Stoppard’s play, which won a 1976 Tony Award, can dazzle at times and also wear you down with its demanding kitchen-sink content."

Original Mike said...

"Publishing and distributing centres, bookshops and reading rooms, libraries and similar establishments must all be under party control."

OK.

"We want to establish and we shall establish a free press..."

C'est what?

Lenin sounds like garage.

Edmund said...

Stoppard seems to be very much an anti-communist. I saw "Rock 'n' Roll" a few years back, and it concerns academics that are opposed to the repressive Soviet-run regime in Czechoslovakia. Starts in the 60s. Rock music as an expression of freedom is central to the plot.

Leora said...

Saw this in 1976 in New York. Would love to see it performed again. More interesting than Rosenkranz and Guildenstern are Dead which is performed all the time.

chickelit said...

Lenin, Joyce, Dadists...it sounds like script rehearsed at Zurich's Café Odeon. By the 1990's, it was the kind of place where heads turned to see who walked in but then quickly resumed idol chitchat.

Joan said...

I thought "Downfall" was quite a good film.

I'll have to look into "Travesties" since I have also much enjoyed "The Importance of Being Earnest." Thanks!

William said...

Artists are not such great moralists or judges of political events. In the 19th century, Dickens wrote of debtors' prisons and divorce laws, George Eliot wrote of the plight of weavers and mechanical looms, and Jane Austen on how to find a suitable husband. The issue of chattel slavery did not capture the attention or imagination of a single major British or American writer. I think most people would agree that slavery was the major evil of their era, but it was pretty much ignored by the heavyweights.. (Huckleberry Finn was Huck's story, not Jim's and Twain served on the Conferederate side for a few weeks before lighting out for the territories.).........In the 20th Century, we see the same thing with Communism. Even worse actually. The 19th century writers weren't supportive of slavery. They just didn't think it was worthy of their attention. The 20th century writers were, by and large, supportive, even enthusiastic about Communism. Both H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw were granted interviews with Stalin and wrote admiring articles of the great man's vision and wisdom. Even P.J. Travers, Mary Poppins creator, pronounced the Soviet Union an ok place after a visit there......Artists can express their pain and concerns with force and vigor, but their pains and concerns are not necessarily ours. They're not the unelected legislators of mankind. They're a bunch of self absorbed twits.

YoungHegelian said...

I thoroughly enjoyed "Downfall", but, hoo-boy, did it assume that the viewer knew the history & personnel of the Third Reich. The poor ol' spousal unit, nowhere near as much of a WWII history buff as her hubby, was asking "okay, whozzat?" again & again. I mean, it's not like the German audience knows who those guys are, either. Matter of fact, modern Germans work at not knowing that stuff.

The most chilling part was when Frau Goebbels murders each of her sleeping five children in turn with cyanide so that they won't have to live in a world without National Socialism. Members of the Party had sworn an oath to defend to the death the Fuehrer & the Nazi Party. When it was clear that both were finished, they honored that oath by killing not only themselves, but often their entire family as well.

Ann Althouse said...

@rcocean You are looking at a review of a different production, one in Sag Harbor. The one here in Spring Green, Wisconsin has great performances and fast pacing. No yawning.

Ann Althouse said...

"Saw this in 1976 in New York. Would love to see it performed again. More interesting than Rosenkranz and Guildenstern are Dead which is performed all the time."

We saw Rosencranz last year at APT.

I can see why it is put on more often. Travesties is extremely difficult for the actors. What we saw was dazzling. The timing and the language play was like a clockwork that kicked in from the first moment and proceeded relentlessly for the actors... elegantly for us on the receiving end. I would hate to see a less than great production.

Ann Althouse said...

@chicklit It takes place in Zurich and is partly based on something that did happen in 1917.

Ann Althouse said...

"I thoroughly enjoyed "Downfall", but, hoo-boy, did it assume that the viewer knew the history & personnel of the Third Reich."

I had just read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. And still I paused a few times to reread and get some details straight. It would have been nice to include the names in the subtitles.

"The poor ol' spousal unit, nowhere near as much of a WWII history buff as her hubby, was asking "okay, whozzat?" again & again. I mean, it's not like the German audience knows who those guys are, either. Matter of fact, modern Germans work at not knowing that stuff."

Clearly, it was made for Germans.

Chance said...

Whenever I'm at a theater production, I look around and think nobody would be watching this if it was on television.

averagejoe said...

Who wears flip-flops on a night out? People are too damn casual these days. Show some fucking respect for the artists and put some clothes on. It's bad enough you're wearing shorts, we gotta see your ugly feet too? Where the hell do you think you are, Pismo Beach? This isn't O Calcutta, go get dressed! No shoes, no socks, no theater!

Saint Croix said...

Stoppard wrote Shakespeare in Love, which is amazing. That movie brought Shakespeare to life more than any versions of his works that I have seen. It's really fun for people who dig Shakespeare. (Some great inside jokes). But even people who don't read Shakespeare love that movie.

Quaestor said...

There is an excellent film treatment of this material which is more accessible to Americans and those not so well-versed in the history of the Third Reich. The Bunker, a 1981HBO production starring Anthony Hopkins and Richard Jordan, is taken from the book of the same title by James P. O'Donnell, the first Western journalist to inspect the remains of the Führerbunker on 4 July 1945.

The Bunker concentrates on familiar personalities like Albert Speer, Martin Bormann, Joseph Goebbels, Eva Braun, and of course Hitler himself. To reconstruct the events which took place in that concrete warren O'Donnell interviewed all the bunker survivors accessible to Western researchers, including Albert Speer, Johannes Henschel, the bunker technician, Rochus Misch, SS man in charge of communications, and Gertraud Junge, one of Hitler's three stenographers.

You may watch the whole film online here.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Wisconsin is full of the greatest people one would be lucky to find.

Guildofcannonballs said...

They charged me $7 per beer...


No Guinness.


I'm a darmed* fool for the Irish.

Damn Charmed.

With the Irish, Gaelic, brogue. As should be.

***some whiskey flasks weren't all the time vertical

Guildofcannonballs said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ob90L7Lh1lY

This is great.

I have audio memories of Jerry and Co. and forgetting but respecting...

This song.

This is Jerry saying "hey cool song to make the best me and my buddy can of"
and God Bless.

Guildofcannonballs said...

This is the greatest film to be filmed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9g3Xc8KQ66k

The more you don't imderstand, the stronger.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Did you know that there is a big statue of Lenin in the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle? I wonder about that, all the time. I was told that it is originally from Czechoslovakia and after they ripped the damn thing down somehow it wound up in Seattle. Occasionally someone paints its hands red. Anyone know more about the story?

James Graham said...

Yes Tom Stoppard is anti-communist.

Compare and contrast with the over-rated Arthur Miller, attendant at that pro-Stalin rally held in 1949 at New York's Waldorf Astoria.

http://www.keywiki.org/Scientific_and_Cultural_Conference_for_World_Peace

John Breen said...

The scene in "Downfall" where Magda Goebbels returns to her card game after murdering her six children with cyanide is one of the most chilling portrayals of evil on film.

ndspinelli said...

The Importance of Being Ernest was good, but I liked Ernest Goes to School and Ernest Scared Stupid, better.

RazorSharpSundries said...

Art about art: I just finished Tom De Haven's novel, "Funny Papers," about the birth of the comic strip, late 1890's, New York City. I highly recommend. It's an overlooked historical fiction gem. Intelligent but not overly intellectual. The winners lose and the losers win and everyone gets what they need.

Unknown said...

I've seen Travesties three times: Once at the original production in NY, once at McCarter Theater in Princeton, and once as an abbreviated student production in Princeton. The original was the best but the McCarter one wasn't bad. I'm so glad you got to see it, because I think it's one of his best.

Incidentally, if you have the opportunity, his The Real Thing is also a play about art. The speech about the cricket bat is particularly apt.