If Tom Stoppard has written something that he doesn’t want staged — a loan application, a grocery list — he should set fire to it, and soon. The demand for genius Mad Tom is high, even with last season’s theatrical leviathan “The Coast of Utopia” and Broadway’s upcoming “Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Saturday’s matinee staging of “Stoppard Goes Electric,” three obscure teleplays, was so packed that the house crew had to bring in extra folding chairs. When everyone was seated, the writer’s fans enjoyed a modestly entertaining 85 minutes of comic wordplay and jokes about adultery, adequately performed.
“Teeth,” “Another Moon Called Earth” and “A Separate Peace” are slight, friendly fictions that looked so forlorn trapped inside the television that the Boomerang Theater Company let them out to play on a small stage in New York’s Flatiron district. Like lifelong housecats that beg to be let out into the garden, though, the three tales don’t really know what to do out in the more immediate, less fungible territory of the theater.
It’s sad to have to call them back indoors, but really, these stories were happier inside the glass-fronted box.
“Teeth” is a pre-Monty Python TV farce with extra puns to make up for the lack of absurdity. It’s a classic Britcom setup: Sleazy salesman George (Mac Brydon) has been making time with the wife of his dentist Harry (Christopher Yeatts) and now is about to go under the drill, not knowing whether Harry has caught on.
The script provides fertile comedic ground for the actors, and, like many good playwrights, Stoppard is interested in working in a single room for as long as possible. It’s no wonder that this and “Another Moon Called Earth” were presented on the BBC’s “Thirty Minute Theatre” in 1967: The budget-conscious network could produce Stoppard’s sparkling dialogue with only minimal set construction.
Still, there are moments in “Teeth” that Stoppard has written expressly for the screen, particularly the punchline, and, because so much of the piece appears effortless, the reworkings look clumsy.
If “Teeth” keeps both feet planted on the ground, “Another Moon Called Earth” has its head in the clouds. Christopher Thomasson offers the best direction of the evening here, but the play also has by far the most interesting writing, mixing music- hall characters and wit with abstract philosophy.
Richard Brundage is a stitch as Bone, a distracted intellectual, and Brydon gets a lot of mileage out of Crouch, the caretaker in Bone’s building. Stoppard must have known he had written something worthwhile, because five years later he revisited many of the themes and characters used in “Another Moon” for his 1973 full-length “Jumpers.”
The final segment, “A Separate Peace” (not to be confused with John Knowles’ novel), is both the longest and the least auspicious, having undergone the most radical surgery to fit on the stage. Still, the story — about a man who checks into a hospital in order to relax — has both an undeniable poignancy and Brundage (very good in a small part) going for it. The play is one of Stoppard’s very first works, produced (again by BBC2) in 1966 for the show Double Image.
As an evening of theater, simply staging an hourlong show with the first two sections would probably be better, but the shows themselves have yet to resurface on DVD or video. As such, “Stoppard Goes Electric” is a valuable artifact, if not an entirely thrilling night out.