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Jumpers (04/25/2004 - 07/11/2004)


 

AP: "Jumpers Mixes High Jinks, Low Comedy"

Put on those thinking caps, folks, it’s time to face "Jumpers," Tom Stoppard's high hurdle of a comedy filled with dense philosophical discussion, impossibly clever quips, deliberately bad musical numbers and one dead gymnast.

The revival, which opened Sunday at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre, comes from Britain's National Theatre, where it was a big hit last summer.

Stateside, however, American audiences could be flummoxed by Stoppard's ornate wordplay that seems to be forever calling attention to itself and the play's very specific English references that will have non-Anglophiles scratching their heads.

Along with all that dazzle, "Jumpers," which had a short run on Broadway 30 years ago, exudes a certain smugness as Stoppard spins his rarefied tale of intellectual high links and low comedy. The plot is overstuffed with language and physical movement. Even designer Vicki Mortimer's intricate turntable setting never seems to stop moving. The story revolves around George, a rumpled professor of moral philosophy who is preparing a paper on the existence of God and who dictates his thoughts to a silent but efficient secretary.

Stoppard's verbal dexterity is astonishing as he lays out George's argument for the presence of a higher power. These thoughts make for some lengthy monologues which Simon Russell Beale (as George) delivers with remarkable finesse. Beale is making his Broadway debut in "Jumpers" although the actor is known to New Yorkers from his sterling performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in such classics as "Twelfth Night" and "Uncle Vanya."

Here, perhaps to compensate for the esoteric material, Beale tries a bit too hard to be ingratiating. His portrait of the unraveling George is bigger, broader and filled with more bits of stage busyness than it was in London.

That said, Beale does capture the essential sadness of a man desperately trying to repair a damaged marriage with the insecure, appropriately named Dotty, played by the voluptuous Essie Davis. It's the one note of humanity in a play that, despite the laughs, is cold and chilly.

Among other things, "Jumpers" is a murder mystery: who killed the yellow-suited gymnast? The man, along with a squad of fellow philosopher-athletes, was performing at a party given by Dotty when he was shot.

Dotty, of course, is the prime suspect. She is a promiscuous, mentally fragile woman who walked out on her musical-comedy career in mid song. Now she's having an affair with Archie, a vice chancellor at the university as well as her psychiatrist.

As the wanton - and often naked - wife, Davis is a comic delight.

She's sexy and vulnerable, particularly when perched atop a crescent moon high above the stage and singing songs about the moon.

The other supporting players are equally adept: Nicky Henson as the unctuous, urbane Archie; Nicholas Woodeson as Inspector Bones, a policeman right out of Agatha Christie by way of Monty Python; John Rogan as a doddering servant, and EIiza Lumley as the mute secretary.

Director David Leveaux worked wonders with his recent Broadway revivals of "Nine" and "Fiddler on the Roof." Both were carefully rethought.

Leveaux is a smart, savvy director, and "Jumpers" never looks or sounds less than elegant. Yet Stoppard's metaphysical musings are hard to make theatrical. And for a lot of the time, they somersault right over the heads of the audience.


AP
04/24/2004

New York Daily News: "Oh, the humanities!"

Many years ago, a friend who was at Oxford invited me to attend a seminar in political philosophy given by the distinguished British scholar Sir Isaiah Berlin.

For much of the class, lads from both sides of the Atlantic outdid one another in what can only be termed exquisite BS (I assume they all became lawyers) under the supervision of a young instructor who scratched himself incessantly and furiously up the sleeves of his frayed Harris Tweed jacket. Only at the end did the owlish Sir Isaiah make a few sage remarks.

I was reminded of that bizarre afternoon as I watched Tom Stoppard's "Jumpers," an early (1972) play that seems written for an audience of precocious, pretentious English schoolboys.

The current revival, presented by the British National Theatre, boasts a fine cast, led by Simon Russell Beale, and an impressive physical production. It is, however, largely insufferable.

Beale plays George, a professor of moral philosophy who engages in parodies of philosophical discourse, like "My left sock exists, but it need not have done so." He and his silent secretary (Eliza Lumley, who can get a laugh by simply moving her eyes) are struggling over a speech.

Meanwhile, in the bedroom next door, his wife, Dottie, a musical-comedy star (Essie Davis), often naked, entertains a series of guests including a group of amateur gymnasts, one of whom is murdered. Solving the killing turns the play into a parody of British detective dramas.

The wordplay and absurd twists of logic are endless. There is something dazzling about the way the play veers between academic and farcical. Occasionally, there are moments of wisdom, as when George declares, "Atheism is a crutch for those who can't bear the reality of God." But much of the time it just exudes nervous energy, like that fretful Oxford don. By the time it's over, "Jumpers" seems little more than a highbrow skit.

The role of the professor could be dry, but Beale gives it an earthy quality, suggesting a man genuinely obsessed with the questions he wrestles with.

As Dottie, Davis has a saucy air that provides a nice counterpoint to Beale's earnestness. Nicky Henson and Nicholas Woodeson are perfect as a playboy and a dogged detective. So is John Rogan as an humble servant.

Vicki Mortimer's set is extremely stylish, as are Nicky Gillibrand's costumes, and director David Leaveaux has mined every ounce of theatricality from the play. But the high-energy proceedings seem more exhausting than illuminating.


New York Daily News
04/26/2004

New York Post: "Philosophy Fun-Oh-Fun"

“Everything has to begin somewhere," the hero points out in Tom Stoppard's bewitching "Jumpers," which Britain's Royal National Theater last night brought triumphantly back to Broadway.

Somewhere, yes, but where? For Stoppard's dazzling tour de farce is seriously difficult to write about, and always has been.

For starters, you probably want to know what "Jumpers" is about. Avoiding the classic vaudeville answer, "about 2 1/2 hours," I'm tempted to say it's about God, Man and the Man in the Moon.

It also finds a new Broadway star in Britain's extraordinary Simon Russell Beale, who, looking like a bewildered hamster, is just wonderful.

In this, his Broadway debut (he's previously appeared in New York as Iago, Hamlet and Uncle Vanya), Beale reveals a contemporary comic dimension as Professor George Moore, pompously and ineffectually preparing for a debate on Moral Philosophy at the bizarre British university where he teaches.

There really was a philosopher named George Moore (1873-1958), who claimed "goodness was a pure ethical quality" incapable of any further definition. This deliberate joke-naming is simply one of Stoppard's many little pseudo-academic quirks, that, granted, can become annoying.

The play's George clumsily suggests, in terms like those of his real-life predecessor, that human morality is an objectively recognizable demonstration that God exists.

Doesn't sound very funny, does it? Especially when you consider four deaths - that of an acrobat and Professor of Logic; a goldfish; a hare; and a tortoise.

Believe it or not, though, it's funny - screamingly funny.

Never mind the details. Just relax in your seat, think Monty Python - and let the jokes pour over you in some cheerful semantic blur.

Stoppard makes mock of philosophers with the same vigor Moliere showed in poking fun at doctors 350 years ago: a riot of paradox about the reality of goodness and the dangers of our technological world.

Listen and you'll find that his Modern Philosophy 101, from Bertrand Russell to Ludwig Wittgenstein, is spelled out quite simply despite all the comic, arcane verbiage.

By 1972, when "Jumpers" was written, Man has set foot on the moon and seen the world from God's perspective. Does that new perspective depend on what you mean by God - and could it lead to moral anarchy, in which the Ten Commandments are no more significant than the rules of tennis?

For apart from being a traditional British farce - with doors opening and closing on demand and girls in their underwear or, in this case, nude - "Jumpers" is also a traditional British murder mystery, complete with a plodding Detective Inspector, called Bones.

This being Stoppard, we never do find out who did the murder. Nor do we discover whether George's embattled marriage to the Marilyn Monroe-like musical comedy star Dotty (an entrancing Essie Davis) will survive her disenchantment or her affair with Archie, the dashingly arrogant University Vice-Chancellor.

In David Leveaux's slick new staging, God is not just in the details but in the casting, which is pluperfect.

Almost as amazing as Beale are the luscious Davis as the ditsy but very smart Dotty; Nicky Henson as Archie, her braggadocio psychiatrist and lover; and Nicholas Woodeson as Bones, her lovably idiotic fan of a detective.

Add to these John Rogan as an imperturbable and philosophic butler, Eliza Lumley as a nameless Secretary who says not a word but speaks volumes, and a troupe of amiably amateurish acrobats (don't ask!) and you have a play that takes off to the moon.


New York Post
04/26/2004

New York Times: "Odd Brits A-Leaping With Bodies Or Brains"

Acrobatics aren't just for athletes in the high-flying revival of Tom Stoppard's ''Jumpers,'' which opened last night at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. Though the show features an enthusiastic team of bouncing gymnasts, everyone in ''Jumpers'' jumps in one way or another -- verbally, emotionally, morally.

Life is a state of unending, bounding restlessness in the world portrayed here. And with a cast headed by Simon Russell Beale, in a dazzling Broadway debut, such exertions turn this 1972 comic mystery of murder, marriage and metaphysics into one of the most entertaining exercise sessions available in a city that loves a good workout.

Leaps of faith; back-flipping politics; somersaulting, self-inverting words and free-falling nervous breakdowns are all on offer in ''Jumpers,'' which depicts a quasi-mythical England where a group called the Radical Liberal Party has ushered in a new era of relativism. The director, David Leveaux, appropriately serves up a show that never seems to stop spinning, from its chic revolving set to the frantic, farcical movements of its characters.

But at the same time, this luscious import from the National Theater of Great Britain, which also stars the divine Essie Davis, finds a wounded, hungry heart beneath the razzle-dazzle of wit and vaudevillian showmanship. And a play often dismissed as too clever by half now registers clearly as a poignant acknowledgment of the limits of cleverness.

In summary, ''Jumpers'' can still sound off-putting. (It was given the nickname ''Sleepers'' during its first and brief run on Broadway in 1974 in reference to its narcotic effect.) Where's the excitement in a play about a bumbling, self-centered philosopher, one George Moore (Mr. Russell Beale), who spends much of his time dictating a lecture on whether or not God exists?

Granted, the people around this hapless fellow (who is not, as he irritably explains, the more famous philosopher named George E. Moore) are a lively lot. Most of his fellow academics are acrobats, and even his secretary is first seen flying on a trapeze. But George belongs, as he puts it, to an old-fashioned school, ''which regards all sudden movements as ill-bred.''

Yet there is nothing static about the performance of Mr. Russell Beale, a London stage star of sharp inventiveness and peerless emotional depth. (He has been seen as Hamlet and Vanya in visiting productions at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.) Even as his George tries to make a case for a solid metaphysical core in a crazy, mixed-up universe, his hands rove to pick wax from his ears or to trace circles on his protruding stomach. He cannot complete a phrase, it seems, without doubling back to amend it or erase it or contradict it, while his sense of self slides between giggly complacency and pained doubts.

His wife, Dorothy (Ms. Davis), a prematurely retired musical star teetering on the brink of madness, calls him ''the last of the metaphysical egotists.'' And in dealing with others -- from the wife who keeps him from her bed to his beloved pet tortoise and hare -- he winds up violating most of his stated principles. Still, there are moments when his fussy, stuffy professorial persona falls away, to reveal an achingly sincere faith in goodness.

Mr. Russell Beale's performance beautifully mirrors the play as a whole. Like George, ''Jumpers'' can seem all too swept up in its own cerebral whimsy. But it is also like George in the seriousness that underlies its diverting surface. What keeps ''Jumpers'' from twirling off its shiny axis is its profound respect for what George calls the ''mystery in the clockwork'' of existence.

In pursuit of this cosmic enigma, Mr. Stoppard has shaped ''Jumpers'' as a more mundane kind of mystery, the good old detective story. The play begins with a celebratory blowout for the Radical Liberals at George and Dorothy's lavish Art Deco digs, where one of the title characters, part of a floor show of academic acrobats, is shot and killed.

Bones (Nicholas Woodeson), the delightfully inept police inspector who comes to call, confronts a Clue-game-like range of suspects: the high-strung Dorothy, who is called Dotty for a reason; her doctor, Sir Archie Jumper (played with superhuman glibness by Nicky Henson), who is also a government official, George's academic rival and possibly Dotty's lover; George's cryptically silent secretary (Eliza Lumley), and -- a long shot -- the building caretaker (and part-time metaphysicist, natch) Crouch (John Rogan).

The antic criminal investigation is descended directly from the farces noires of Joe Orton, while the precocious schoolboy puns and self-congratulatory epigrams evoke a blend of musical hall routines and Oscar Wilde. But weaving these elements together is Mr. Stoppard's distinctive feeling for the shiftiness of all things human. Puns, for example, are words with more than one meaning.

''Jumpers'' itself eludes pigeonholes. Mr. Leveaux, who is also represented on Broadway this season by the less felicitous ''Fiddler on the Roof,'' here dexterously juggles all the play's different identities. And with the highly skilled assistance of Vicki Mortimer (set designer), Nicky Gillibrand (costumes), Paule Constable (lighting) and Corin Buckeridge (music), he combines wildly different genres into one glossy, eye-popping package that never forgets the elusive darkness beyond.

More than any production of ''Jumpers'' I have seen, this one locates the pathos in George's and Dotty's marriage, a sense of genuine affection and complicity undermined by helpless egotism. Tellingly, this couple is most at ease when communicating through games of charades. The silences that overtake them in between resonate with a sad, frustrated loneliness.

Whether poured into a silver flapper dress or vulnerably (and exquisitely) naked, Ms. Davis's Dotty provides the perfect, plaintive counterpoint to Mr. Russell Beale's George. This production makes the parallels between the two explicit, while underscoring the sad reality that parallel lines don't connect. Just as George can never quite arrive at the clinchers of his philosophical arguments, neither can Dotty remember the lyrics to the songs that made her reputation. (The onstage band that follows her wayward performances is terrific.)

Most of those songs, by the way, are about the moon, which Dotty believes has been stripped of its poetry since astronauts landed there. Just as George shuffles through names of philosophers, Dotty comes up with her own desperately delivered catalog of poets who once hymned her dear silvery moon.

Don't worry if you're not up on your Keats or Milton, or for that matter your Plato or Wittgenstein. For all its intellectual name dropping, ''Jumpers'' -- like Mr. Stoppard's ''Real Thing'' and ''Invention of Love'' -- is ultimately less a showoff demonstration of what Mr. Stoppard knows than a humble contemplation of what he and all humankind can never know.

This production presents the theatrical clockwork of ''Jumpers'' with scintillating style and polish. But it also pauses to hear the brimming silences of the mystery beneath the mechanical ticking.


New York Times
04/26/2004

Newsday: "Philosophical gymnastics earn high score"

Forget whatever you hear about "Jumpers" being too hard to understand. Yes, Tom Stoppard drops plenty of esoteric names and arcane theories in the 1972 philosophical vaudeville that opened last night at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in David Leveaux's delicious National Theatre production.

This is brainy, but full of heart. For all Stoppard's showing off, the effect is giddy with the joy of emotional and intellectual gymnastics. Gorgeously staged by the ever-surprising director of this season's "Fiddler on the Roof" and performed by a dazzling cast that includes Simon Russell Beale and Essie Davis in the unlikeliest of married bonds, this is a daredevil extravaganza with amateur acrobats in the ballroom and a huge, insistent love for humanity in its addled soul. Part murder mystery, part academic satire, part cosmic meditation on the nature of goodness, this is also an old-time English sex farce with a silly streak as deep as its embrace is wide.

Beale is foolish and glorious as George Moore, chair of the university's unfashionable moral philosophy department. Davis is cartoon luscious and nakedly fearless as his wife, the delicate and lusty, smart but dotty Dotty, a former student and former musical star in a downward psychological spiral. They live separately and together in a surreal three-part flat, a glittering schizoid extravaganza by designer Vicki Mortimer. It's part George's study, part Dotty's satiny boudoir, part ballroom where a barely visible combo plays piano-bar music while more gung-ho members of the "radical liberal" philosophy department attempt acrobatics while wearing yellow sweat suits.

The stage is a revolving confluence of astral orbs, circles within circles, with a woman stripping on a swing and a crescent moon that, ultimately, lead us nearer to the moon-sick core of the play. In Dotty's round room with the glossy round bed is a round TV that shows a moral disaster happening between England's first two men on the moon. Faced with a crippled space capsule that can only take one back, an astronaut climbs in and abandons the other forever.

How could Dotty be expected to make her comeback singing "Moon Glow," "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Shine on Harvest Moon" when her "Junie old moon" has lost the poetic mystery, the idealism, the romance? Meanwhile, George is contorting his own unglamorous schmoo-doll of a self through the preparation of a paper he must deliver at a seminar about "Man: Good, Bad or Indifferent?"

He dictates to his secretary - played in silence but not insignificance by Eliza Lumley. "God is ..." he repeats, then tells her to "leave a space." Or, he wonders and babbles aloud, is it "Are God ... ?," that is, two unconnected Gods, one for creation, the other for goodness? And while he's asking questions, or dreaming up a philosophical rhapsody on the nature of his sock, he must know: Are moral values the distinguishing marks of human nature or merely products of civilization?

Then again, there is a corpse, an acrobat shot during Dotty's breakdown in the opening scene. She reaches out for Archie, the dashing, corrupt and cynical vice chancellor of George's department, who is also her psychiatrist, lawyer, lover and general power in a world flattened out by rationalism. Nicky Henson's Archie - dressed like Dick Tracy down to the yellow socks - is an unctuous, dangerous fellow whose pragmatism is given Stoppard's last word but hardly his final thought. John Rogan dotters around as Crouch, a winking twist on the stock old English caretaker, just as Nicholas Woodeson seems to have stepped out of an old Brit film as Bones, the detective and besotted fan of Dotty.

Most of all, there are Beale and Davis - both in their Broadway debuts and essential viewing for anyone who cares about the stage. If Kevin Kline is a character actor stuck in a leading man's body, Beale is just the opposite. He squirms himself around in George's lived-in cardigan (terrific costumes by Nicky Gillibrand) as if he could use the sweater the way his adored tortoise hides in his shell. Davis, who won an Olivier Award as Stella in Glenn Close's awful "Streetcar Named Desire," could only be more pleasurable with whipped cream on top.

There is a playful, hurtful caring between the two, and the yearning is palpable. There is also an Orwellian shadow over the play, a nostalgia for life's mystery that we refuse to see as right-wing dogma by Stoppard.

As George insists, "Of all forms of wishful thinking, humanism demands the greatest sympathy." For all the cold talk, the melody of "Sentimental Journey" keeps haunting the enchanting night.


Newsday
04/26/2004

USA Today: "Jumpers worth the plunge"

George Moore, the stout, frazzled-looking man who consumes our attention through much of the National Theatre's marvelous revival of Tom Stoppard's Jumpers (* * * * out of four), is a philosophy professor. But his lectures could rival the work of any stand-up comedian for sheer entertainment value.

As played by the extraordinary Simon Russell Beale, Moore delivers discourses that are at once searching, provocative and devastatingly funny. Beale paces the stage with a manic energy that Chris Rock would admire, his timing exquisite, his expressions priceless. Each nuance of every line is captured and savored.

And what lines they are. First produced in the U.K. in 1972, Jumpers, which opened Sunday at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre, is the kind of gem that few playwrights other than Stoppard could have crafted: a freewheeling farce with a soulful, searing conscience — not to mention elements of romantic intrigue, murder mystery and musical theater.

We first encounter George as he is preparing to debate a professor of logic. His argument, relayed to a prim secretary in hilariously sprawling gulps, rests on a fundamental belief that God exists in some form, and that morality is not merely subjective or a function of social conditioning.

The opposite view is embodied, literally, by the "Jumpers" of the play's title, acrobats who personify the intellectual twisting that so-called rational thinkers engage in while trying to scrutinize an inscrutable world. The plot also involves George's wife, Dotty, a singer driven to nervous distress by the news that men have landed on the moon; the vice chancellor of George's university, who justifies his regular visits to Dotty's bedroom on the grounds that he is her psychiatrist; and the corpse of a man Dotty may or may not have shot.

Director David Leveaux and his flawless cast juggle with dazzling dexterity all the quirks and intricacies that Stoppard hands them. It would be hard to imagine a more delectable Dotty than Essie Davis, whose kewpie-doll looks betray a ferocious comic facility. Nicky Henson plays the smug vice chancellor-cum-shrink with perfect deadpan wit, and John Rogan and Nicholas Woodeson are equally droll as the Moores' porter and a bumbling detective.

George's foibles, of course, are the most endearing. Through this unlikely hero's complex, sometimes confused faith, Stoppard rejects the notion that religious and spiritual conviction automatically translate into anti-intellectualism, or force us to define people and ideas in terms of black or white, or us vs. them.

It's a message that should resonate with American audiences now at least as much as it would have 32 years ago.


USA Today
04/25/2004

Variety: "Jumpers"

There is, quite probably, a lot less to "Jumpers" than meets the eye -- or rather the ear. But how could it be otherwise? Tom Stoppard's exuberantly surreal comedy contains long disquisitions on the nature of God, the origins of being, the morality of aesthetics (or maybe it was the aesthetics of morality). That's in addition to the meditations on the semiotics of moon landings, the nightclub act, the gymnastics routines, the murder mystery and the piteous depiction of a moribund marriage.

The play is a bit like a delicious rerun of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" that is continually being interrupted by a lecture-demonstration on moral philosophy. Several lecture-demonstrations, actually. And if David Leveaux's glittering new production, led by a movingly befuddled Simon Russell Beale and a captivatingly gaga Essie Davis, inspires more admiration for the comical hijinx than for the windy philosophizing, so be it. It's still a rare treat on Broadway: a comedy that inspires, indeed demands, intellectual engagement.

Whether Broadway audiences will be willing to get engaged is in question, however. The production is the first in a much-ballyhooed new alliance between London's white-hot incubator of theatrical greatness, Nicholas Hytner's National Theater, where it premiered, and Broadway producers Bill Haber and Bob Boyett. A financial success would be an auspicious start for the partnership, but it may be a long shot.

Although it can count on a celebratory notice from the New York Times this time around (Ben Brantley raved when it opened in London), Stoppard's play flopped after about a month's run in 1974. And audiences have proven fickle in recent seasons when it comes to tony British revivals: A first-rate "Private Lives" from the West End didn't quite recoup two seasons ago, and that play is hardly an unknown commodity. There is already some evidence that Stoppard's self-consciously cerebral play is leaving audiences nonplussed: At the reviewed performance, both Neil Simon and Joan Rivers, two New Yorkers known for sensitive funny bones, left (separately) at intermission. They had a bit of company, too.

Leveaux's production does, in fact, take longer to hit its stride on Broadway than it did in London. This is probably because Beale, the fellow in the dowdy sweater spitting out subordinate clauses at a dizzying pace, is not a beloved and highly respected actor here, as he is in Britain (this is his Broadway debut). And this gifted but physically unprepossessing performer must endear himself to us by way of some of Stoppard's most densely written, digression-packed monologues, which explore the existence (or not) of God and other matters of great moment.

But it's hard to imagine audiences resisting Beale's singular charms for long. As George Moore, the second-tier philosophy professor who is the still center of the play's endlessly swirling comic universe, Beale is infinitely touching and funny, exuding a melancholy wistfulness that gives the play a necessary grounding in emotional truth.

Although he can sure talk the talk about first causes and the unmoved mover, Beale's George, who seems to exist in a state of permanent apology, remains touchingly ignorant of the origins of the mayhem that will engulf him in the course of the play. His life bears out his erudite rants about the maddening uncertainties at the heart of existence.

Neither he nor his wife, Dorothy (Davis), an ex-philosophy student who went on to become the "first lady of the musical stage" (a well-worn career path, that), can recall just how or when the passion drained out of their marriage. George speaks eloquently of the gaps between image and reality, but he is too timid to explore the obvious significance of the daily visits paid to his wife, in her bedroom, by the chairman of his university's philosophy department, who happens to be Dorothy's psychiatrist, too.

The play's most supremely funny running gag involves George's sustained ignorance of the violent act that sets the play's orbiting plot in motion. It seems that in the course of a night of revelry, presided over by a soused Dorothy while George was holed up in his study, one of the team of acrobat-philosophers from George's university was shot dead. The culprit is unknown, but the corpse hanging in the closet of Dorothy's boudoir must be dealt with.

Hold on -- acrobat-philosophers? Indeed Stoppard's play derives much of its humor from such lunatic juxtapositions, learned inquiries into the nature of right action set alongside gags about a disappearing rabbit plus a murder investigation replete with Cockney detective (the wonderful Nicholas Woodeson) erupting as George earnestly holds forth on Bertrand Russell and the "Principia Ethica."

The adjective "lunatic" is not chosen idly, either: That old devil moon plays a serious supporting role in the proceedings. Dorothy blames her breakdown on the emotional dislocation caused by a moon landing: "Not only are we no longer the still center of God's universe," she laments mournfully, "we're not even uniquely graced by his footprint in man's image." Accordingly, Vicki Mortimer's chic, silvery settings are a playground of lunar imagery, with even the lamps and TV in Dorothy's bedroom designed as white orbs. And the actress herself might have been cast for her lovely, full-moon face, which isn't to say her suitability for the role ends there: Davis depicts Dorothy's quivering fragility in continually sharp, sensitive ways.

The emotional transparency of the two leading performances is crucial in sanding away some of the play's inherent opacity, as is Leveaux's lucid direction. For Stoppard's writing is often needlessly verbose here, and the ideas in "Jumpers" are not as elegantly integrated into the proceedings as they are in later plays like "Arcadia" and "The Invention of Love." Witty and elegant though his phrasing always is, Stoppard can be intellectually flashy in a tedious, self-congratulatory way -- and, in his writing for George, he often is. Far fewer words would suffice to underscore the poignance of George's retreat from the concrete problems of life into the solitude of theory.

Filling the stage with learned talk about meaningful ideas is not quite the same thing as writing a meaningful play. But George would no doubt assert the subjectivity of such terms as "meaningful." And then he'd probably go on about the slippery nature of all aesthetic judgments, and the absence of an absolute standard of morality, too. Trying to pinpoint the meanings of "Jumpers" is like trying to catch hold of a moonbeam. Which is more or less the whole idea, come to think of it.


Variety
04/25/2004

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