James Joyce, Dadaist Tristan Tzara, and Lenin walk into a Zürich drawing room in 1917… and from there it’s a mad, dizzying ride through the mind of playwright Tom Stoppard in his 1974 Travesties. Twice a hit in the West End, the play hasn’t been seen on Broadway since its Tony-winning premiere in 1975. Now, director Patrick Marber (Closer) brings his acclaimed revival to the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre, where it recently earned four Tony nominations including one for Best Revival and one for Marber’s direction.
As a playwright himself, Marber felt confident in going to Stoppard (with whom he had a long-standing relationship) about making adjustments to both the original Travesties script and the subsequent revised version for the 1994 revival. “This production is using a text of Travesties that’s never been performed,” Marber says. “I mean, you’d have to be a Travesties scholar to know where and when… but I guess that there’s one out there who will, one day, go, ‘Ah, I see!’”
The play is notoriously convoluted, but Marber shrugs off any fears that it may be difficult to follow. “With a play that is complicated and goes down many strange alleys, it seemed to me the director’s primary job here is to make it a good ride for the audience,” he says. “Sometimes the view will be misty, sometimes the view from the train will be absolutely clear, but I want the audience to feel comfortable that they’ve got a very nice seat on this train, and that the journey will get them somewhere. They don’t have to always understand the view, but they can appreciate it.”
Aiding in bringing “absolute lucidity” to the production is a cast comprised of the revival’s original stars Tom Hollander and Peter McDonald, and six newcomers to the production. “Auditions were really simple because with a play like this, an actor either gets it or doesn’t get it,” Marber says. “You know within three minutes. What Stoppard says he most seeks in an actor is clarity of utterance. It’s a particular way of articulating language, where the words really have spring in them. That’s what I’ve got here, and all eight of them are brilliant and wonderful.”
Despite the changes in cast, Marber is confident that the play will remain what earned it critical hosannas in London. “Tonally, it will be the same,” he says. “It’ll be what I hope it is, which is glamorous, and funny, and smart, and unlike anything else.”