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Are you an artist or a revolutionary?
Or don’t you remember?

The place is Zurich, the time is 1918 and three men destined to become icons are in town at the same time: James Joyce, Tristan Tzara and Vladimir Lenin. Using Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest as a creative lens, Travesties explores questions of art and revolution through the humorously selective memory of Henry Carr. Stoppard weaves together historical facts with dizzying intellectual wit in one of his most famous works.

Travesties is set in an era quite parallel to this one, where the world is in tangible chaos and where the “world order” will be irrevocably changed by the actions of both ordinary and extraordinary people. Zurich was a neutral city during World War I, so it attracted artists, exiled politicians and cowards alike. The play presents a vital question about the value and danger of neutrality in a world where good and evil are so clearly delineated. Regardless of action, or inaction, choices resonate loudly; you can take action through ideas, through politics, or you can take no action, as all too many of us do.

In the midst of such weighty political concerns, Stoppard is able to be hilariously funny, and makes us much more interested in the history of ideas than we would ordinarily be. Stoppard asks hard questions too, questions we should all be asking ourselves in the current political climate, and challenges us to actively decide how to act in order to affect our world.

The best way to get to know Stoppard is to see Stoppard. From cub reporter to short story writer to legendary playwright, Stoppard’s voice has been heard echoing across the world in huge performance halls and black box theaters alike. As a boy, his family moved from Czechoslovakia to Singapore, then to India to escape the spreading malaise of the Second World War. Stoppard arrived in England in 1946, where he became, among other things, a theater critic. He wrote his first play, A Walk on the Water, in 1960.

Inspiration for Travesties arrived when Stoppard discovered that The Importance of Being Earnest had been produced in Zurich, with a man named Henry Carr in the cast – and that the business manager for the show was none other than James Joyce. A conflict ensued over reimbursement for a pair of trousers and the two men ended up in court. From this brief historical account Stoppard created a tour-de-force in which Henry Carr conjures images of Joyce and Tzara locked in argument over the role of the artist. Curiously, the structure of the argument bears a striking resemblance to Wilde’s famous play. In Carr’s memory Lenin also slips into The Importance of Being Earnest – and the language of the play is revolutionized. Lenin declares: “To lose one revolution is unfortunate. To lose two would look like carelessness.” Is art vital for humanity? Or is it on the same level as a coffee mill? Is there a revolution worth fighting for? Or should we trust Henry Carr who tells us: “…you’re either a revolutionary or you’re not, and if you’re not you might as well be an artist as anything else.” The fractured memory of Henry Carr provides not only devilish wit – it makes us question our own memories. How much of our own history are we unwittingly rewriting?

Shotgun Players production of Travesties will be directed by Sabrina Klein, the executive director of the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts. The cast features Shotgun company members Gwen Larsen (under milk wood, Mother Courage) and Richard Louis James (Play About the Baby, Death of Meyerhold, Quills), as well as David Valdez, Davina Cohen, John Mercer, Kevin Clarke (Death of Meyerhold), Kevin Kelleher (We Won’t Pay, We Won’t Pay), and Rica Anderson (Troilus & Cressida). Alf Pollard will design the set; Rob Anderson will design the lighting, with Jeanine Rodgers as the properties mistress and Greg Scharpen as the sound designer. Christine Crook will design costumes and company member Kimberly Dooley will do the choreography.

Rica Anderson, Kevin Clarke, Davina Cohen, Richard Louis James, Kevin Kelleher, Gwen Larsen, John Mercer & David Valdez

Rob Anderson, Sibani Michael Bose, Christine Crook, Kimberly Dooley, Sabrina Klein, Liz Lisle, Joanie McBrien, Alf Pollard, Jeanine Rodgers, Greg Scharpen, Angelo Villegas

Thursday-Sundays at 8 pm
December 4 through January 16, 2005


SF Chronicle
Shotgun Players tackle Stoppard's zany wit, as 'Travesties' takes on Wilde, Joyce, dadaism

Berkeley Daily Planet
Terrific ‘Travesties’ Runs Wilde at Ashby Stage

Oakland Tribune
Shotgun whips up Wilde night in Stoppard's tricky 'Travesties'

SF Weekly
What Tom Stoppard did in this 1974 play would be too expensive to try today

SF Bay Guardian
Modern art and revolution vie with the status quo in the Shotgun Players' Travesties.

East Bay Express
Shotgun's Travesties is brainy but fun.

Rubicon (Website)
Who's Your Dada?

Inside Bay Area (Website)
Uncategorizable highlights as 2004 reaches final curtain

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