by Beatrice Williams-Rude
The run of a charming theater piece, Traveling Papers, is coming to a close and one wishes it would be extended, or booked for a return trip.
The unusual work consists of a series of vignettes, artfully performed and directed, relating to travel as seen through the eyes of writers including Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Paul Theroux, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Walt Whitman, Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, Edna Ferber, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mark Twain and Paul Bowles.
These snippets are strung together by together by a plot that has the crew of a cruise ship trying to cope with the sole passenger, a garrulous lady of a certain age. When the focus is to shift from the cruise-ship shenanigans to the observations of the writers, a cast member crosses the stage carrying a suitcase on which “to be continued” is written.
Before the opening, while the audience is entering the theater—The Lion, on Theatre Row—the stage is awash in luggage and a voiceover is giving language lessons, an elegant device to hold the audience’s attention and set the mood.
Traveling Papers has some of the attributes of an opera. Each of the estimable performers has what is really an aria—sprinklings of applause followed many.
This most interesting work was conceived and adapted by Barbara Bosch and Martin Tackel and expertly directed by the former. It bears certain resemblances to “New York Ladies: Women Who Write With Wit,” conceived and adapted by Jim Furlong and Jane Buchanan, which was presented by the Hudson Guild two years ago. In both these works unconnected vignettes feature bravura performances by the various cast members. There is no “star,” as each takes center stage in an individual segment.
Gwen Arment, in “Traveling Papers,” is particularly appealing as the passenger on the cruise ship, although she has many other shining moments including delivery of a paean to Venice. Gwen Eyster is spectacular as Miss Gowd, the Rome expert. John Camera and Peter Husovsky perform brilliantly in a variety of roles as well as those ongoing as the captain and the doctor on the ship. Kyle Doherty, Macy Idzakovich and Jillian Stevens round out the talented cast.
One of the clever devices that worked astonishingly well was women playing men, using nothing but false mustaches and their own acting abilities—no changes of costume.
The sound designer was Brian Hurley; Lui Konno was the costume designer and Edward R.F. Matthews was the lighting designer. Graphic design is by Maria T. Card.
This is a show for travelers—both armchair and actual—for those whose luggage has seen more of the world than they have, and for those who relish the quips of the celebrated, including Yogi Berra and Satchel Paige, about the pleasures and pains of travel.
Traveling Papers. June 3 through June 20 at The Lion Theater (Theater Row – 410 West 42nd Street, between Ninth Avenue and Dyer Avenue). www.travelingpapersplay.com