Jumpers

Presented by Boyett Ostar Productions, Nederlander Presentations Inc., Freddy DeMann, Jean Doumanian, Stephanie McClelland, Arielle Tepper, U.S. casting by Jim Carnahan, C.S.A., at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47 St., NYC, April 25-Aug. 22.

It would take the wit of Tom Stoppard to do justice to the wit of Tom Stoppard: the puns, the epigrams, the parodies, the paradoxes, all the strange and wonderful things that he can do with language. Nor are his skills merely verbal. He has claimed to be "quite hot on the theatricality of theatre," and "Jumpers" (1972), revived in a lavish production from the National Theatre of Great Britain, is a case in point, featuring a naked lady, a corpse in the closet, and, yes, "the Incredible—Radical!—Liberal!!—Jumpers!!!," eight philosopher-acrobats who jump at the command of "Sir Archibald Jumper, M.D., D.Phil., D.Litt., L.D., D.P.M., D.P.T. (Gym)."

And yet, I was a little disappointed. George, Stoppard's protagonist, is a nonjumping philosophy professor; he is trying to write a lecture on the existence of God ("To begin at the beginning: Is God?"), while ignoring his wife, Dotty, who is in bed with a nervous breakdown and Sir Archibald Jumper. Academics have been fair game for satire ever since Aristophanes depicted Socrates (another philosophy professor) pontificating in his "thinkery." But too much of the play is devoted to George's philosophical monologues, and his fatuity and self-involvement undercut his stature as Stoppard's spokesman. Stoppard has described the play as "partially a whodunit, partially a play of ideas, and partially a farce," and these elements tend to get in each other's way.

But what elements they are!—and David Leveaux's direction makes the most of them. Simon Russell Beale's George is a little round hedgehog in a saggy cardigan; Essie Davis as Dotty wears her elaborate outfits with a piquant air of innocence, but is never more lovely than when wearing nothing at all; Nicky Henson's Archie is an intellectual thug in double-breasted pinstripes. All are admirable, as are Nicky Gillibrand's costumes. Vicki Mortimer's scenery, under Paule Constable's lighting, is an art deco dream; Archie's jumpers are entertainingly choreographed by Aidan Treays. "Jumpers" is an intellectual "Hellzapoppin'."