That Tom Stoppard. He's at it again. The Invention Of Love was a hit in London, but New York decided the play was too esoteric and British to succeed in the Big Apple, so they decided not to produce it.
Fortunately, Stoppard has a relationship going back 20 years with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where I saw it last night with a sell-out audience that included my daughter Rae and her friend Lizzie, a pair of high-school freshmen who enjoyed it as much as I did.
Admittedly, the material seems unlikely; it is about the study of ancient Latin and Greek texts in Oxford in the 19th century. It is also about Oscar Wilde and homosexuality. But most importantly, it is about the life of British Poet A.E. Housman (author of Shropshire Lad) from his Oxford matriculation until his death, at age 76, in 1936. Like his previous stage plays and his radio plays, Invention has a lot of small overlapping scenes and clever devices, the cleverest of which is to have Housman appear on stage at age 26 and 76 at the same time.
Rae was particularly upset with the scene in which Housman tells his long-time friend and roommate, the heterosexual athlete Moses Jackson, that he's "sweet on you." Jackson reacts very calmly and rationally, yet firmly makes it clear that won't happen. It devastates Housman, who, according to the play, never loves again. Rae found it heartbreaking, but after discussion, agreed there is no easy way out of such a situation.
I have never seen a Stoppard play I didn't like. I've also never seen one where I didn't feel compelled to buy the script (almost always on sale in the lobby). Invention of Love was no exception. Apparently, the season ticket holders to my left and right felt differently, as they bailed at intermission. I supposed the subject matter might offend some, but I feel I know much more about Greek and Latin textual analysis then I did before I saw the play. Stoppard has a way of making you feel smarter.