Richard Kind in 'Travesties' at Bay Street Theater: Poetry and Politics on the Isle of Yachts

Leafing through his well-worn script after a recent performance, Richard Kind enumerated the challenges of his role as Henry Carr in Travesties, a play replete with double entendres in every language you can imagine and then some. As fireworks rat-a-tatted in the background on the July 4th weekend, punctuating Kind's grand kvetch about jokes that had to be explained even to him -- like a colloquialism for German that might defy the recognition of any "echt" Berliner -- he could not get over Czech playwright Tom Stoppard's brilliance, and Bay Street Theater's daring to stage this paean to verbal gymnastics and erudition during high beach season. Hello Dolly, it's not, said Richard Kind after the standing ovation from the surviving audience. (Many left at intermission complaining of mental fatigue.) That fact begs an annoying question: To enjoy this play, do you, in fact, have to have read James Joyce's Ulysses, need to know who Tristan Tzara was? Or, what Dada was compared to Surrealism? Or, how T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" measured out his life in coffee spoons? Or, care about the exact correlation of the political, the truly revolutionary, to ART?

Opening with a scene in the Zurich Public Library under the word SILENCE, the play's every sound is magnified: the cut of a scissors, the thudding closure of a dusty tome. White stripes fan out from a single point giving the stage a spacious funhouse dimension, just a hint of optical verve to suggest a mind game. Even the stagehands get into a wild vaudeville routine. You can also see the Bay Street Theater's revival of Travesties as a visual tour de force involving Lenin as clown, prim librarians who evolve into bare-breasted burlesque, a pie throwing fest whose contenders end up a ball on the floor, or a fashion parade of antique lingerie. The ensemble: Michael Benz, Carson Elrod, Andrew Weems, Aloysius Gigi, Julia Motyka, Emily Trask, and Isabel Keating, is excellent, and director Gregory Boyd keeps everyone moving snappily. Richard Kind is a comic of great versatility, an elastic-faced Pagliacci of sad-happy emotion, and one of the play's great pleasures is the look on his face during the librarian's striptease. This staging will do wonders for long-line bras and gartered corsets, observed one onlooker, to wit, the actress Julia Motyka replied, Yes, just look at what they've done for me.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.