Saturday, December 12, 2009

Jumpers - by Tom Stoppard

So. I haven't posted in a while. I've been paralyzed by this play. Stuck. It's taken me days to finish it and I've pushed through - and what did I get out of the endeavor?

I'll try to provide a description.

Jumpers was first performed in London in 1972. There are two acts followed by a Coda. It starts with a musical performance by Dotty on the event of a victory in the polls by a Radical Liberal candidate. She's singing and losing the thread of her performance. A woman is swinging back and forth, losing an article of clothing each time and nearly colliding with the help. Then the Jumpers enter - a tumbling act. George, Dotty's husband, apparently trying to sleep in the next room calls for them to knock it off. The Jumpers are in a pyramid formation when BANG a shot is heard and the pyramid tumbles - a Jumper has been shot. Archie (later revealed to be Dotty's lover) tells her to keep the body out of sight till morning.

Dotty watches TV with the corpse on her lap. There's a program about a recent moon landing. The astronaut's left one of their own on the moon. It is morning and George is beginning his work. He is a moral philosopher. His work is to dictate his lectures to his stone faced secretary who doesn't say a word and records his every utterance. Currently he is working on, "is God?" He tangles through much logic, occasionally visiting with his turtle, his rabbit and his goldfish. He is occasionally interrupted by Dotty screaming out, 'Rape!' or 'Wolves!' which he ignores.

Eventually they come together over a game they play - she acts out titles for him to guess, i.e. she lies naked and still on the bed - 'The Naked and the Dead." She wishes for Archie, George suspects hanky-panky and she claims he is her doctor. They talk about the night before and there is some business with hiding the corpse from George.

A detective arrives at the door, Bones, who turns out to be a huge fan of Dotty - but also planning to arrest her for the murder committed in their home at the party. Eventually he gets past George to Dotty's room, the corpse falls from its hiding place and Dotty begins to seduce him. George discusses the philosophical work of the deceased jumper - also his colleague - and while Bones is in another room. Archie returns with the other Jumpers to remove the corpse.

And that ends Act One.

In Act Two Bones encourages George to help his wife get off from the murder charge by pleading insanity and continues his investigation - now without a body. Archie and Dotty carry on with their 'examinations,' and George and Archie talk philosophy, and the newly vacant Logic Chair that the corpse used to hold - and George is interested in. Through the scene George accuses Dotty of killing his rabbit - furious with her for that (in contrast to the total lack of emotion demonstrated for the dead Logician), I think she did kill his goldfish - and maybe eat it? (though I could be wrong about that) and then he discovers that he killed the rabbit accidentally when he was shooting is bow & arrow inside. As he finds the body he also manages to crush his turtle. His weeping takes us to the Coda.

The coda is a symposium in dream form where the question of "Man - good, bad or indifferent?" is discussed amongst Archie, George and Clegthorpe - the ArchBishop of Canterbury. This devolves into a performance by the Jumpers, a song by Dotty, a monologue by George about god and trains, and Archie asking us not to despair,
many are happy much of the time; more eat than starve, more are healthy than sick, more curable than dying; not so many dying as dead; and one of the thieves was saved. Hell's bells and all's well - half the world is at peace with itself, adn so is the other half; vast areas are unpolluted; millions of children grow up without suffering deprivation, and millions, while deprived, grow up without suffering cruelties, and millions, while deprived and cruelly treated, none the less grow up. No laughter is sad and many tears are joyful. At the graveside the undertaker doffs his top hat adn impregnates the prettiest mourner. Wham, bam, thank you Sam.
(Archie, Coda)

To which Dotty gets the last word, "Goodbye spoony Juney Moon."

The descriptions of staging and lighting are meticulous, a complex set is intricately described as well as how moments should bleed into one another or be separated. The rhythms of moments and characters create order from the slapstick and absurdist elements - and following the logic of the long philosophical passages is like chasing cats.

I'd say I should read it again to really grasp it - but actually I think I would much rather see it in action.

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