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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the May 12, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Broadway Review: ‘Jumpers’

If it proves nothing else, the jazzed-up-gussied-up revival of Tom

Stoppard’s 1972 "Jumpers," proves you don’t have to fly to London to

get a metaphysically-induced migraine. And if the voyage of director

David Leveaux’s Littleton production (with its fine cast intact) to

Broadway confirms for the second time how irrefutably conflicted and

convoluted is this absurdist comedy by an otherwise staggeringly smart

playwright, so be it.

In one season, the gifted Leveaux has taken us from "Fiddler on the

Roof" to "Singer on the Moon." So who’s howling? Consider "Jumpers"

the Brits obligatory snob appeal entry at Tony time. Far be it from me

to object to either Stoppard’s too-clever-by-far vision of how

philosophical orthodoxy is demeaned, if not actually condemned, within

a radically re-imagined academic society, or to reject the way he

chooses to integrate a randy romance and a vicious murder within the

perimeters of mind-bending chatter and cockeyed melodramatics.

Once we see through the extravagant trappings provided by set designer

Vicki Mortimer, our attention focuses on the blissfully postulating

philosopher George Moore (Simon Russell Beale) as he composes a

lecture on the nature of God and his stand regarding moral absolutes.

At the same time it becomes evident in Leveaux’s busily abstracted

staging that George’s social inadequacies are as problematic as is his

marital ineptitude, a reality substantiated by George’s friend Archie

(Nicky Henson), the unctuous and devious vice-chancellor whose

flagrant and conspicuous attentions paid to George’s glamorous wife

Dorothy (Essie Davis) provide for some goofy compromising situations.

Except for the muted laughter provoked by Nicholas Woodeson, as an

incompetent cop, and Eliza Lumley, as an almost silent secretary,

there is no need to speculate whether or not the peripheral characters

that Stoppard has conjured up resemble human beings any more than they

resemble an extended family of cerebrally gifted circus performers,

posturing and playing out their devilishly comic skits in their

respective rings. These philosophers/academics, presumably theorists

of radical positivism, are specifically perceived and deployed as a

troupe of acrobats of questionable distinction, but we do like their

yellow jumpsuits.

Given that the audience is unwittingly made a recipient of George’s

mildly diverting discourses, it remains for the endearingly chubby and

chatty Mr. Beale to posit George’s moral philosophy. Beale does this

as brilliantly as he illuminates his character’s own personal failures

and frustrations. The actor, who is making his Broadway debut and most

recently played Hamlet at BAM, does it in a well worn cardigan with a

little sweat and no end of theatrical panache. This helps us to

survive all the stuff and the stuffing that appears with regularity on

over-worked turntables and sometimes from the moon.

George appears to be as patronized by his fellow philosophers as he is

by his dotty Dorothy, a former singer famous for warbling aloft on a

crescent moon, the victim of a nervous breakdown presumably caused by

the moon landings that have made her moon-June repertoire obsolete. As

Dorothy, Davis is appropriately distracted, dreamy and never less than

stunning (in and out of Nicky Gillibrand’s insinuating costumes).

Dorothy’s disintegrating relationship with George may suggest an

occasional wistful hint of lost affection but it never goes beyond the

ineffectual. One has to admire the way Leveaux gives equal value to

Stoppard’s mix of melancholy and mirth, especially the way in which

the almost irrelevant murder of a philosopher, mostly played out

within Dorothy’s bedroom, counters the play’s respect for moral


As an entertainment, "Jumpers" would have us be as content with its

dizzyingly giddy speechifying as with its twisted sense of

playfulness. A collective audience breakdown during a performance,

similar to Dorothy’s, would not be out of the question. Given that

this sumptuous production, which seems to take place in

star-glittering outer space, boasts an on-stage band, a mentally

unbalanced chanteuse atop a Ziegfeldian moon, and a corps of tenacious

acrobats, a trained (?) tortoise, a striptease, and a murder most

foul, "Jumpers" is not wanting for window dressing. It does go

wanting, however, for coherence and whatever else it takes to keep an

audience in its spell.

Although the relentlessly wordy and fitfully wacky "Jumpers" is

erudite to a fault, it comes up short behind Stoppard’s more recent

plays, such as the vastly more accessible "Arcadia," "Hapgood," "The

Real Thing," and "The Invention of Love," not to mention his most

dazzlingly precocious "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern."

Lest a reviewer feels insufficiently prepared for the test, a

half-inch stack of feature stories and London reviews were provided by

the production’s press representative. My instinct (and my decision)

to wait and read them until after I wrote my own reaction comes not

from ego or vanity, but because I suspect that audience members will

not be given the same heads-up. I chose to be as objectively open,

respectful and receptive to the play as they may be. The result: I was

occasionally bored, often perturbed, and sometimes amused, but

primarily confounded.

– Simon Saltzman

"Jumpers" (through June 6) Brooks Atkinson Theater, 256 West 47th

Street. Four Tony nominations including Best Revival of a Play. For

tickets ($60-$95) call 212-307-4100

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