Corrections or additions?
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
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
– 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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