Last night, Bwog writer Gabrielle Kloppers was honored to attend the opening night of Jumpers, a play satirizing academic philosophy by likening it to badly performed gymnastics. The play was written by renowned playwright Tom Stoppard, who also wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a Bwog favorite. Although it may concern unskilled competitive gymnasts, the cast of this CUPlayers production was by no means unskilled. Tickets are still available for shows on April 15th and 16th.
I entered the opening night of Jumpers with expectations high, having previously thoroughly enjoyed Stoppard’s absurdist take on Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I was highly interested in the CUP interpretation of such a conceptually complex piece of work. Jumpers relates the tale of George Moore (Aaron Fisher), a slightly foolish philosophy professor working at a university where a gymnastics curriculum has just been forced on the faculty by Vice-Chancellor Archie Jumper (Nell Bailey). After acrobatic professor McFee (Michael Falkenstein) is shot in the opening scene, a philosophical duel on the moral nature of man is begun. Between it all is Dotty (Sophie Nobler), George’s wife and Archie’s patient, unhinged by the sight of astronauts on the moon. Throughout this, Detective Bones (Joon Baek) investigates the perpetrator of the shooting, who he thinks is the unhinged Dotty, while all the while Moore’s patient secretary (Rachel Cramer) looks on.
Aaron Fisher gave a standout performance as Moore, embodying the personality of the disheveled professor who concerns himself only with the metaphysical, God, and the nature of life. Giving lengthy, impossible and often hilarious sermons on philosophy, with circular arguments and a lot of passion, Fisher reminded me almost of some of my own professors when waxing lyrical, or perhaps of philosophers Mr. Ramsay, Mr. Bankes, and Mr. Tansley in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (there we go, Lithum students, this play is highly relevant to you! Go watch it!). Contrastingly, Nell Bailey and Joon Baek seduced the audience with their performances as Vice Chancellor and Bones, with plenty of sexual innuendo to keep even the sleepiest student awake. Completing the cast of main characters, Sophie Nobler is almost genius in her role as Dotty, convincing me so thoroughly of her insanity and narcissism that I can’t help but question the character of the actress herself (sorry!). Characters that seem minor, such as the Secretary and Crouch (Eliza Moss-Horowitz) play second fiddle often to the main actors, but the secretary’s constant presence was highly realistic and superbly disturbing, and Eliza as Crouch reminded the audience that after all, this play is a satire and meant to be laughed at.
The structure of the play is meant to be disconcerting, with the initial scene leaving the audience in a state of general bafflement. This theme continues throughout the play itself, and may turn off less adventurous audience members. However, it is immensely important to the success of the play itself; a parody of the often convoluted and esoteric world of philosophy. Consequently, the confusion of the audience is facilitated by academic jargon (again like our much beloved Tansley), the seemingly random introduction of the jumpers into what would otherwise be an academic detective story, and multiple plot twists that occur from the playwright’s concealment of information from both the audience and other characters.
The general state of confusion and sarcasm about the academic and political world make sense in context of the play’s origins. Throughout the play, there is the vague threat of the British astronauts who have just landed on the moon, and of “Radical Liberals” who have taken over the government. In other words, pragmatists and relativists are the real fear, and the play suggests that these figures are immoral by implying that they think murder not wrong, simply “antisocial.” The idea of the collapse of moral values and the overextension of philosophy come from the time in which the play was written and performed, in 1972, amidst troubles in Northern Ireland, which led to the Bloody Massacre. Strikes and sit-ins led writers like Stoppard to think that the world as they knew it was ending.
Despite the seemingly removed context of the play from our insular life here in modern-day Columbia, it is nevertheless highly relevant to our lifestyle. Quotes like “the Church is a monument to irrationality” would fit in perfectly with largely atheist Columbia, and to many current students, the phrase “I should never have mentioned unicorn to a Freudian” is too relevant to be scoffed at. Furthermore, in these times of political turmoil and instability (will Trump win???), the play echoes the sentiments we feel as a student body here. One quote that I particularly related to was the line “all sudden movements are illogical,”which seems relevant in this season of finals and laziness.
Leaving the theatre, some hilarious lines couldn’t stop echoing in my mind, such as “he always was tidy,” while referring to a man who had supposedly committed suicide inside a large plastic bag. However, what more stood out to me was the fact that all humans across time are completely illogical and confusing. Seeing the satirizing of philosophy made me realize how trivial some of these cerebral concerns were, and how we as students often take them more seriously than simple conceptions of what is “good.” Regardless of the mild existential angst the play brings up in the average overworked Columbia student, the play is truly one 0f the best ways to spend a Friday or Saturday evening. Bwog recommends that everyone go see Jumpers for its convincing character portrayals and boundless sexual innuendo.
Photo by Gabrielle Kloppers