Bay Street Theater’s summer season continues on Tuesday, June 24 with Travesties. A comedy by Tom Stoppard—known for plays that often include abstract storytelling ideas and pose philosophical questions while still being uproariously funny—it stars Hamptonite Richard Kind in a role unlike any he’s played before. “This play is far and away the most difficult that I’ve ever touched in my entire life,” Kind says. “That’s one of the reasons I took the role. When you get to my age, you want to meet challenges that make you feel young—and in this case, I’m getting older doing it!”
Although he is known to most for his television roles on Spin City and Mad About You, Kind, 57, is certainly no stranger to the stage, having appeared on Broadway in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife (by Charles Busch, a Bay Street favorite), The Producers and Sly Fox, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Big Knife. Kind has received much critical acclaim, earning a Tony nomination and a Drama Desk Award for The Big Knife. “One of the things when you do a lot of TV work, you don’t get to be as good [as you can be],” he says, explaining that he often takes on theater projects that challenge him. “I got to do Candide at the New York City Opera. I can sing, but I’m not an opera singer; I really had to work at it. Those are challenges. But [Travesties] is so dense, so magnificent…I’ve been working on it since March to memorize the lines. I often get asked, ‘How do you memorize all those lines?’ It’s hard. You work hard.”
A longtime fan of Stoppard’s work, Kind notes that Travesties was his first exposure to the playwright’s work. “I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but I loved it! I love John Wood, who created [the role I’m playing] Henry Carr. He was the best.” The role was actually written for Wood by Stoppard after they did Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead. “After that play, [Stoppard] went, ‘Was that play difficult to memorize?’ and Wood said no. So Stoppard challenged him!” Kind says.
The rehearsal process has been a learning experience. “We ask a lot of questions,” Kind says. Director Greg Boyd is no stranger to Travesties. “He’s a student of this play—this is the fourth time he’s done it. He’s a huge director. Because of this play, I’ve learned a lot about acting, I’ve started talking about things the way people talk about things [when they’re younger and less learned].”
Travesties is a comedy set in Zurich during World War I and focuses on English consular official Henry Carr as he recalls the many encounters he had with other real-life figures such as James Joyce, Lenin and Tristan Tzara. But as Carr reminisces, he ends up tangling the many memories in his head and takes the audience with him on an unpredictable ride through his mind, all the while experiencing a strange production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest.
Kind wants audiences to know that it’s okay if they feel confused by the action in Travesties. “The audience will not understand what’s going on,” Kind laughs. “They should not feel at all inadequate or dumb. But they will have a great time no matter what. This is an important thing: This play is a blast. Any play that combines pie fights, striptease, James Joyce and Oscar Wilde…it’s wild—and Wilde. Most things we see today are linear. ‘This guy did this, then this happened.’ We’re used to linear narratives. Travesties is a roller coaster of styles, ideas and people. It’s fascinating. Major real-life historical figures are treated comically, but also as real people.
“You know Breaking Bad? It’s kind of like that. At the end of Season 2, you find out about the pink bear that was floating in the pool with the missing eye. Once you learned what it was, wasn’t it exciting? Eventually in Travesties, you’ll have that same kind of feeling.”
“Travesties” runs from June 24–July 19 at Bay Street Theater. For tickets and more information, call 631-725-9500 or go to baystreet.org.