My review of The Invention of Love appears online at WestEnder.com
THE INVENTION OF LOVE
By Andrea Warner
Tom Stoppard knows a thing or two about love. The celebrated playwright turned the Bard’s soft-side intothe Oscar winner, Shakespeare in Love. More recently his relationship dramedy, The Real Thing, had a three-week stint at the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage.
Unfortunately, United Players’ Canadian premiere of The Invention of Love is one of Stoppard’s driest, most academic offerings, boasting more $5 words than the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. Putting the playwright’s mind over what really matters, Love means to show us just how big Stoppard’s reading glasses are.
The play tackles — in varying flashes forwards and back through time — the life and death of poet and scholar A.E. Houseman. Stellar Tariq Leslie, as the young Houseman, silently lusts after his best friend, dreamy jock Moses Jackson (Andrew Halliwell). It’s all talk, no action, the actors left drowning in a sea of lengthy monologues. As a result, the first act stalls repeatedly, and often feels like a tired university liberal arts lecture.
While young Houseman’s life is precariously hooked to his unrealistic dreams, the older Houseman (Graham Bullen) is caught in a strange afterlife with a variety of scholarly types, each of whom alternately waxes on about their chosen academic fields, its merits, its lows, and the politics of the time, including the controversy-baiting shenanigans of flamboyant writer Oscar Wilde (James Gill, who has a gay old time, literally).
The second act picks up steam, when Houseman’s finally ‘outed,’ and it’s here that Stoppard’s genius with wordplay finally allows the actors to shine. Stoppard invents love: the all-consuming, paralyzing aspects love that moves men into epic soliloquies about the meaning of words, the beauty of poetry, and the fallibility of scholarship.
Unfortunately, Stoppard’s genius is ultimately tempered by overwhelming intellectual indulgences marring what otherwise might have been a consistently compelling narrative.