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by Mary Shen Barnidge

Playwright: Tom Stoppard. At: Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-404-7336; Article Link Here ; $42.50-$52.50. Runs through: May 3

In historical fiction, the ideal narrator is a humble citizen who just happens to occupy a position affording a close-up vantage of world-changing events.

The events in Tom Stoppard's play are premised on the coincidence of Vladimir Ulyanov Lenin, Tristin Tzara and James Joyce—respectively, a founder of the Russian Communist party, a founder of the Dadaist art movement and a founder of the stream-of-consciousness narrative technique in English literature—all living in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1917. The narrator who proposes to regale us with memories of his soon-to-be-celebrated neighbors is Henry Carr, an undistinguished war veteran posted to the British consulate.

The Stoppard writing in 1975, having established a reputation for lightning witticisms and brainy polemics, was not content to simply view the past from the perspective of the present, though. Our elderly raconteur is soon revealed to be deep into his dotage and thus, inclined to wander off-topic—most often, to recollections of his role in an amateur production of The Importance of Being Earnest during the years under scrutiny. What this means is that a somber discussion of the reciprocal influence of art upon social revolution may suddenly assume the syntactical structure of Oscar Wilde's immortal comedy, or a lecture on Marxism delivered by a passionate Bluestocking conclude with her disrobing in a Victorian-styled striptease.

The results are appropriately dazzling, with densely layered puns, parodies and literary references ( Did I mention whole scenes composed in serial limericks or lyrics to vaudeville songs? ), creating an intellectual vertigo capable of reducing even seasoned professionals to the stumbling mumbles in a matter of minutes. Fortunately, Remy Bumppo director Nick Sandys has drilled his cast to the agility and stamina of Olympic cross-country racers, ensuring that the madcap full-cast waltz at the play's conclusion is executed as nimbly as the lengthy monologue that launched it nearly three hours earlier.

Words aren't the only things dancing giddily in Stoppard's kaleidoscopic universe. Joe Schermoly's scenic design and Andrew Myers' lighting employ scrims to change wall décor with almost imperceptible dexterity, Victoria DeIorio's score of atmospheric and punctuative music keeps us oriented within Carr's befuddled chronology, while Rachel Lambert's costumes range from leprechaun drag to hats modeled on Dali's melted watches. Audiences unversed in European history, or lacking a sing-along familiarity with the aforementioned Oscar Wilde farce, or whose humor runs to lowbrow, rather than highbrow, topics may rest assured that both will be found skipping merrily hand in hand through this exuberant spring romp.

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