Jumpers On Broadway

REVIEW by Willard Manus

NEW YORK -- Tom Stoppard bares his neocon heart in JUMPERS, his 1972 play which was revived last summer at the National Theatre in London by director David Leveaux and the actors Simon Russell Beale and Essie Davis (among others). Other important contributors to the revival's success include Vicki Mortimer (set), Nicky Gillibrand (Costumes), Paul Constable (lights), Conin Buckeridge (music) and Aidan Treays (choreography).

All of the above are involved in JUMPERS' transfer to Broadway, in a production which is notable for its looks, sound and movement. Rarely has a straight play, whether comedic or not, been designed so colorfully and skilfully, making it a pleasure to look at while it spins, sings and speechifies for nearly three hours.

The acting is also quite dazzling, especially by Beale as the earnest, double-talking professor and Davis as his oft-naked but sexually (and mentally) deprived young wife. Stoppard's torrents of words faze neither them nor the rest of the superb cast (which includes Nicky Henson, Eliza Lumley, John Rogan and Nicholas Woodeson).

JUMPERS is not an easy play to understand, if only because Stoppard throws around ideas like a child does mud, hoping some of it will stick on the wall. Lines are delivered at such speed, or deliberately garbled and mangled for comic effect, that comprehension is well nigh impossible. Stoppard loves puns, jokes, farcical misunderstandings and esoteric references, all of which help make for bewilderment and confusion.

Eventually, though, meaning begins to manifest itself. Stoppard makes it clear that he despises atheism, secularism, "radical-liberal" ideas, moral relativism and astronauts on the moon. That's just for starters, too. The playwright, like Jimmy Durante, has got a million notions about life--and he packs his multi-layered, bizarrely-plotted play with them (the jumpers of the title are middleaged, left-wing philosophers, for example).

Just as nonsense piled upon nonsense gets tiresome in a comedy, so does notion upon notion in a drama. It's not just that I didn't agree with Stoppard's endlessly-expressed, right-wing ideas, I was unutterably bored by them. JUMPERS may be easy on the eyes, but as a play it's just so much sound and fury signifying nothing.

Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 250 West 47th St. Call Ticketmaster or visit ticketmaster.com