"I'm dead, then. Good." So states the Victorian poet and scholar A.E. Housman at the start of Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love, now playing at The Studio Theatre. With this declaration, a journey through Housman's past begins. It is a compelling voyage that reveals a thirst for knowledge, an unrequited love, and a reluctance to cross the lines of convention.
A.E. Housman, a noted poet and Cambridge professor, is best known for his book of poetry, "A Shropshire Lad". We first meet a recently deceased Housman as he is about to cross the River Styx. After embarking on this last excursion Housman observes not only the younger version of himself, but the man whom he has loved for his entire adult life. Eventually, he interacts with his former self. But his interactions are not limited to the Young Housman. While in the underworld he eventually meets up with the famed Oscar Wilde whose flamboyancy is the antithesis of Housman's reserved nature. What ensues is one of the most intriguing moments in the play.
The Invention of Love is an intricately written piece. It is not just the tale of a hidden passion. It questions the meaning of life and the choices we make. And woven in between these questions is the Greco-Roman verse that so consumed Housman. Overall, Stoppard's dialogue is well constructed. However, his use of classical references may leave some audiences at a loss. But through Joy Zinoman's excellent direction and the efforts of a strong cast, the heart of the play emerges.
The combination of Russell Metheny's set design and Joseph Appelt's lighting is effective. Especially moving is Fred Karns' original score, which seems to emphasize Housman's unsatisfied desires.
As a whole, this is a well-crafted piece. Regrettably, Stoppard did not include a great amount of Housman's original verse. However, this does not detract from the strength of the play. During his conversation with the older Housman, Oscar Wilde exclaims, "Better a fallen rocket than never a burst of light." The Studio Theatre's production of The Invention of Love is truly a burst of light.
The Studio Theatre
The Invention of Love
Photo: Carol Pratt